I've been to wine tasting parties, cheese tastings and olive oil tastings, but a garlic tasting party? Never.
When veteran gardener Carol Schmidt invited me to her farm near Pelican Rapids, Minn., to sample some of the 20 varieties of garlic she grows, I immediately said yes.
A small basket of plump garlic bulbs sits on my kitchen counter at all times. I find the small nutritionally rich vegetable indispensable and I use at least a couple of cloves a day in my cooking. A member of the Allium family, which includes onions and leeks, garlic turns any meal into an aromatically bold and healthful culinary delight. It's a cooking ingredient I can't live without.
I was anxious to taste some of the several varieties of garlic Schmidt has been growing this season. I packed some mints into my purse and headed to Pelican Rapids with a couple of garlic-loving friends.
Metal hangers heavy with garlic in its curing stage are suspended from the ceiling in Carol Schmidt's front porch, an indication of her obsession with the stinking rose. Next steps led us to her dining room where she had prepared a table of garlic. Six plates held six different varieties of unmarked garlic. The tasters did not know what kind we were eating as we sampled each variety roasted, toasted on bread, minced and mixed with olive oil and raw cloves cut into slices. We examined each bulb, noticing differences in color and size and the number of cloves per bulb. And then we began tasting.
It was our job to jot down our thoughts regarding texture, first taste and finish as we moved around the table, continuously cleansing our palates with fresh apple slices, jicama sticks and celery.
We learned all garlic is not created alike. Some were buttery. Some were so hot they made our eyes water and our ears burn. Others were starchy and bland. One variety might be better for roasting, another best for making garlic crostini. Our favorite: a Rocambole that Schmidt brought from the Iron Range. She calls it Iron Range Rocambole. She gave each of us a hanger full of that variety to enjoy at home.
With my body diffusing the aroma of garlic through my house the next day (the mints didn't work), I decided to make garlic sauce reminiscent of the mixture I used to buy years ago at Morgan's, a Mexican and Lebanese food store in St. Paul. Made with just olive oil, salt, lemon juice and lots of garlic, this spread is not for the faint of heart.
Make this creamy sauce when you can spend 15 minutes on blending the mixture together with no distractions. Then start spreading it on your burger buns, on tortillas for fajitas, grilled vegetables and crostini. Use it as a dip for chicken and beef kabobs, chunks of chewy bread or fresh vegetables. And then, make another batch. It will disappear fast.
Schmidt says she will continue to experiment with new varieties of garlic as she strives to find the prettiest and tastiest of them all. She'll more than likely find some new varieties at the seventh annual Minnesota Garlic Festival Aug. 11 at the McLeod County Fairgrounds in Hutchinson.
You will find Schmidt heading up the first garlic growing contest ever held at the festival -- The Big, The Small and The Ugly. Any garlic grown in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa is eligible. You will find details of the festival and the contest at
sfa-mn.org/garlicfest. The festival is the perfect place to stock up on garlic that will keep your supply of Garlic Sauce always handy in the refrigerator. Don''t bother with the mints.
Not-For-The-Faint-Of-Heart Garlic Sauce
1/2 cup peeled whole (not smashed) garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Put the garlic cloves in the work bowl of a small food processor or in a blender. Add salt. Pulse until garlic is minced. Turn food processor on (or blender to high speed) and add 1/8 cup olive oil in a very thin stream. When that olive oil is incorporated, add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. Continue this process until olive oil and lemon juice have been added and mixture is creamy. The whole process will take about 15 minutes. Turn off appliance and scrape down sides. Turn back on just for a few seconds to be sure the mixture is smooth and creamy. Scrape mixture into a bowl and refrigerate until needed. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
Tips from the cook
--Locally grown garlic will produce the best-tasting garlic sauce. This time of year it can often be found at farmers markets and at the Minnesota Garlic Festival, of course.
--Use an olive oil with flavor you enjoy. That flavor will come through in the Garlic Sauce.
--Use only lemon juice you have just squeezed - not the kind from the plastic lemon.
--Garlic Sauce will keep well in the refrigerator for at least a week.
--I used the 4 1/2-cup capacity work bowl on my food processor. If you have a food processor, I would recommend using it instead of a blender. You can pour the olive oil and lemon juice into the feed tube plunger which has a small hole in the bottom, allowing the liquid to go through in a steady, threadlike stream, which is what you need for this sauce.