In my last blog post (Gourmet Garlic: Hardneck vs. Softneck) I discussed the differences between hardneck and softneck garlics. In the next series of blogs, I will be exploring the various types of cultivars that fall under the auspices of these two categories. I will begin with the Rocamboles, a highly regarded type of hardneck. Rocamboles are considered by many growers and garlic enthusiasts to be the caviar of gourmet garlic due to their exceptional taste. Common examples that I grow include German Red, Yugoslavian, and the hugely popular Russian Red.
Rocamboles require a relatively lengthy period of vernalization for proper growth, making them better suited for growing in colder climates. If you are growing Rocamboles in a climate with more mild temperatures, you will need to put your cloves in an artificial state of cold dormancy in order to obtain optimum results. Although a hardy strain, they do also need a rich soil matrix to grow to their full potential. The plants themselves are robust, with thick stalks and up to nine deep blue-green colored leaves. The scapes are quite long, and often will tightly curl at least twice before they begin to straighten to their full height of approximately six feet. The umbels themselves contain bulbils of varying size and number depending on the cultivar, but they are generally medium to large in size, and vary from a few to many in number. Rocamboles are usually harvested mid-season, after all the softneck varieties are out of the ground.
Grown successfully, Rocamboles will produce medium to large sized bulbs with a regular, slightly flattened tear-drop shape. The outer skins are a matte off-white, and mottled or striped with purple in patterns that vary among cultivars. The clove skins themselves range from a light tan to a deeper brown, often subtly striped or leopard-spotted with a deeper purplish hue. The cloves under the thick, easy-to-peel skins are medium-large and plump, and number from around six to 14 cloves per bulb, again depending on the cultivar. Double cloves are common with certain strains, further expediting easy peeling, but reducing the number available for planting come the fall.
Rocamboles tend to be the most highly regarded of garlic cultivars when it comes to taste. Although specific profiles differ somewhat between different strains, the majority are celebrated for their complex flavor which is characteristically rich, sweet and moderately hot. Although very tasty when cooked, the complexity of flavor means that Rocamboles are best enjoyed raw. Using them, in fresh salad dressings for example, really allows them to shine. And if their superior flavor isn’t enough incentive for you to use them as soon as you can harvest them, keep in mind that, although one of tastiest of the gourmet garlics, they also have the lowest storage capability – usually lasting in good condition for only three to four months. Now you don’t need an excuse to devour them first!