Most people nowadays are very familiar with garlic; it is a staple ingredient for kitchens and grocery lists throughout the United States. The majority of garlic used is the ubiquitous, white, softneck variety from California. Many restaurants buy it as pre-peeled tub garlic, most likely destined to be pulsed up in a Robot Coup. Consumers know it as the stuff which is piled up on islands in their supermarkets or braided for a quaint kitchen decoration or possibly hung over their doors to ward off vampires and petitioners.
This hearty, affordable and abundant product serves its purpose to sate people’s demands for garlic. But it is not the only thing out there. People are not confined to a garlic monopoly. There is hardneck garlic and more specifically, Rocambole.
Rocambole is an Italian hardneck garlic. Visual characteristics of hardnecks are their protruding, firm stem that is encompassed by one set of large cloves. The smaller, nubby inner cloves, that hardly seem worth dealing with on softnecks, do not exist with this variety. Rocambole’s streaky purple skin pulls away easily from the flesh of the clove. There is that convenience factor.
Where Rocambole really stands out, though, is in its taste. It has a mild, creamy, essential garlic flavor, while lacking those abrasive, oniony or sulfur elements. The heat and spiciness in its raw state is not overbearing and when sweated in olive oil it turns sweet, slightly nutty.
A man named Keith Stewart has been responsible for the recent public recognition of Rocambole garlic. He owns Keith’s Farm, an organic farmstead in Orange County, NY, and has been growing this garlic for almost twenty years. It all came about when his wife received a small bag of Rocambole garlic bulbs from their neighbor friend as a gift. They were the children of garlic cloves originally carried over in the pockets of their neighbor’s friend from Calabria, Italy. The man had been growing that garlic for some years in his own garden before bestowing the gift. From that bag, the farm now grows about fifty thousand garlic bulbs.
Harvest is in July. After picking, the bulbs are hung and cured for a few weeks, then off to the market. Rocambole garlic is available from August until around December and is sold at their farm stand in the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City.
Outside of New York, Rocambole may not be the easiest garlic to obtain. Some people may have to wait patiently until their next trip to the City before they can try it for themselves; like real New York pizza or a walk in Central Park. But unlike a hot slice or Sheep’s Meadow, Rocambole garlic has proven that it can fit in the pocket of a friend. Do you know anybody on their way to the Big Apple?