Creole garlics are a resilient type of hardneck whose demure white wrappers hide a lush, vibrant interior. Believed to originate in Spain, Creole cultivars are highly regarded by garlic aficionados for both their delicious taste and their long storage capability. Creole cultivars commonly seen in North America include Creole Red, Rose de Lautrec (photo), and Ajo Rojo.
Creoles thrive in hot, drier climates in which most other hardneck garlics typically struggle. They tend to be highly adaptable, with successive generations of plants acclimatizing to their specific growing conditions. Conversely, they are heavily influenced by yearly climate fluctuations, which can make them difficult to grow, especially if you are looking for a consistent product year-to-year.
The plants are usually tall, with leaves that vary between cultivars and climate from a pale lime to deep green. Normally modest bolters, Creoles do tend to bolt more heavily in regions with a moderate climate. The scapes of some cultivars will produce gentle curls; others will merely exhibit a graceful droop. Umbels are narrow and long, and contain between five and thirty small to medium-sized umbels. The scapes must be harvested in a timely manner, otherwise bulbs size will be significantly reduced. The bulbs themselves are comparatively late to mature, and so are harvested later in the season.
The bulbs produced by Creole cultivars are somewhat petite although they often increase in size through successive generations and optimal growing conditions. Although small, the bulbs are plump and round with lustrous white outer wrappers. Peeling back these creamy skins often reveals the most vibrant clove skins of any garlic type: deep, vibrant, glossy reds and purples. Clove size varies between cultivars, as those that contain fewer cloves tend to be more rounded and plump, while those containing greater numbers are somewhat thinner and more elongated.
Cultivars produce cloves that are medium to large in size, with average numbers ranging between four and twelve per bulb. The majority are arranged in a single layer around the central stem, like other hardnecks, but some cultivars will also produce small inner cloves which subsequently results in the cloves becoming more irregular in size, shape, and number.
Creole cultivars are highly prized for their rich flavor. Even though individual palates differ widely and the taste of different garlic types and cultivars can be very subjective, when described, words such as ‘earthy’, ‘musky’, and ‘sweet’ tend to be consistently be used to describe the Creole group. While most of the Creole cultivars hold these characteristics in common, the heat and pungency of each tend to vary from the delicate to the robust, making this type of garlic one that, although good when cooked, is especially enjoyable and versatile when consumed raw.
When stored properly, Creole garlics have a long storage time of approximately six to nine months, with some cultivars keeping in good condition for up to a year. Their flavor also tends to deepen and mature as they store, making them well worth keeping while you enjoy your less storage-prone varieties first!
Rose de Lautrec' - photo courtesy of Bart Nagel, Bulbs of Fire.