Ark of Taste
Spanish Roja Garlic
Spanish Roja garlic is a hard neck garlic in the rocambole family. Rocambole garlics are known for having deeper, more interesting flavors than other varieties, which make them superior in comparison to soft neck garlics in all types of cooking. Out of some 50 tastings that Chester Aaron conducted around the United States, Spanish Roja ranked among the top two or three. The flavor is sweet, rich and complex when cooked. Raw it is hot as are most garlics, but there is still a sweetness that comes through which is not there in many other garlic varieties. The wrappers are white and the clove skins may be light red to light brown. The cloves are easy to peal at maturity, a quality that chefs and food processors prefer. Their loose skins create the disadvantage that they have a shorter storage life than most other garlic varieties, limiting large-scale production. While being neither endangered nor at risk, Spanish Roja Garlic is under-appreciated because it is only produced on small-scale farms or gardens.
Spanish Roja came to the Portland Oregon area prior to 1900 and has spread to Washington and across the Pacific Northwest. In this region winters are cold enough to grow the Rocambole garlics, which are planted in October and harvested the following July or August. In the early stages of garlic growing in this area, the bulbs were passed between friends and neighbors, and since almost everyone had a garden or farm, each family grew what they needed to use. In no time at all Spanish Roja Garlic had spread throughout the Pacific Northwest, and cultivating for personal use became common.
The process of growing Spanish Roja Garlic is very labor-intensive. To start off, it requires a long rotation program, five to seven years, in order to maximize soil fertility. Harvesting hard neck garlic must be done by hand because it bruises very easily and most mechanical harvesters are not gentle enough. This allows for large-scale production of Spanish Roja to be nearly impossible, and is a main reason why most Rocamboles have remained specialty garlics. For a four-week period farmers are required to go out into the fields every day and harvest the garlic by hand.
Fortunately enough, garlic is still a substantial a part of the Pacific Northwest agricultural economy, albeit a small part when compared to wheat and potatoes. There is hope that the awareness of gourmet garlic and its popularity will continue to increase in the Pacific Northwest, and nation wide.
Spanish Roja Garlic’s superior flavor calls for us to rethink the way we view the garlic provided by grocery stores. Some come pre-pealed and packaged, others are sold by the bulb, and they are certainly all delicious when added to practically any dish. As a classic addition to almost any meal, garlic is a staple in American cuisine, however perhaps the average American does not know what they are missing. Different varieties of garlic can taste very different, and Spanish Roja Garlic is one that should certainly be sought after. Spanish Roja Garlic is not sold in supermarkets nationwide, and perhaps never will be for a variety of reasons, but passionate farmers and common people have shown us that this garlic has brought together a community of people striving to cultivate a unique product with superior flavor. If you have a garden in your backyard, perhaps consider planting Spanish Roja Garlic next season, and prepare to be wowed.