It was late Fall when most of the seed garlic was tucked into the long rows that Mary Alionis, queen bee of Whistling Duck farm, brought nine varieties to my fermentation space in order to compare how the different varieties react in ferments. (These were the players — 'Wonha', 'Chimayan', 'Siberian', 'Romanian Red', 'Kishlyk', 'Aglio Rosso di Sulmona', 'Sliverskin', 'Creole', and 'German Red' — who’ll you’ll be introduced to properly in just a moment.)
We trialed each variety as a whole clove pickle that was fermented in a brine and as a lacto-fermented paste which was dry fermented with salt. It was fascinating to watch the process unfold. After the first 4 days, there was already a lot of fermentation action.
The brined garlic pickles had varying degrees of activity by variety. The 'Chimayan', for example, bubbled all over the place where as the 'German Red' showed little sign of fermentation. This was also true of the pastes. The 'Chimayan' was darker while the 'German Red' showed the least color change. Some of the other pastes were varying degrees of pink. The 'Creole' was the bubbliest.
As the ferments progressed, each one went about its progression through the stages at its own pace, despite all other factors being the same. But the real test was the flavor. They were “technically” finished in about a month; however, because of refrigeration constraints, I kept them in a root cellar at around 58 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 months. They were still delicious and had incredible depth of flavor.
Wonha: This garlic is an Asiatic variety from North Korea, and while it is a hot and spicy fresh garlic, it ended up being the best all-around for its mild balance of flavor. The paste has a mild flavor with sweetness, and the pickles have a wonderful floral sweetness.
Chimayan: These are rich and earthy when fresh (and yes a big bulb with large cloves). When fermented this garlic paste takes on an herbal, spicy flavor. The pickled clove is sweet and the brine is exceptionally fizzy.
Siberian: The paste made from this variety is smooth with fennel notes (I know odd, but tasty). The fermented clove is spicy, not as sweet as some of the other varieties. Strangely, it is also the only one that seemed a bit fibrous.
Romanian Red: This is a productive, strong-flavored, fresh variety. Fermented, it offers a nice balance of flavor. The paste has light citrusy notes. The brined cloves are average flavored.
Kishlyk: This garlic is from Uzbekistan. It produces large bulbs, and the fresh flavor is quite tasty. As a fermented garlic the final paste is a caramel color with a pure sweetness. The pickled clove is also very sweet.
Aglio Rosso di Sulmona: This garlic is from the Abruzzo region of Italy and is known as a pickling garlic. Fresh, it has a sweet delicate flavor. Interestingly we found it to have a slightly bitter flavor (not unpleasant but noticeable) in both the paste and the whole clove pickle. The brine of the whole clove pickle is sweet and syrupy and is one of the tastiest brines.
Silverskin: One of the big advantages to fermenting this garlic is the large bulb size (less bulbs to peel). Another plus is its long storage period so you can use it all through the winter and spring in any ferment. The paste has a mild flavor at first with heat that comes on slowly. The whole clove brine has a most amazing rich flavor, while the cloves themselves were a little boring (like all the flavor just dropped into the brine).
Creole: This garlic hails from the Mediterranean and is an all around good garlic to grow, store, and ferment. The paste has a light heat that comes on slowly and the brined clove stays nice and spicy. The brine itself is thick, sweet and syrupy.
German Red: This is a rocombole variety that is spicy when raw. It also has a very nice scape that ferments beautifully in a pickle or paste. The bulbs are also medium to large which is handy for big production. This variety produces a very nice ferment with a clean garlic flavor in both the paste and brined whole clove. The paste is sweet and mild with a curry-yellow color.
It is time to plant garlic and any kind will give you an amazing convenient probiotic condiment. Check out a recipe here.
Kirsten K. Shockey is a post-modern homesteader who lives in the mountains of Southern Oregon. She writes about sauerkraut and life—but not necessarily in that order. She’s written a complete book of Fermented Vegetables and forthcoming Fiery Ferments maintains the website Ferment.works.
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