“France produces 18,500 tons of garlic per year, in areas scattered throughout the country. Several varieties have what is called an IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée), a European label that guarantees the region of production, and specific growing and preparation standards.
Among the primary garlic varieties in France are l’ail rose de Lautrec (Midi-Pyrénées), l’ail blanc de Lomagne (Midi-Pyrénées), l’ail d’Auvergne, l’ail de la Drôme, l’ail de Provence, l’ail fumé d’Arleux (Nord-Pas-de-Calais), l’ail de Cherrueix (Bretagne) and l’ail violet de Cadours (Midi-Pyrénées), the only garlic with an Appellation d’Origine Controlée, a hard-won pedigree that underscores the quality as well as the cultivation and preparation of the garlic.
There are two major categories of garlic in France—that planted in spring and that planted in the autumn. Both are harvested in July. One of the more distinctive varieties is the mild ail rose de Lautrec, with a rigid central stem that makes it impossible to braid. Instead, growers first peel the heads down to the first skin, so the pink shows through, then tie it into fat, heavy bouquets.
Another variety that stands out is the golden smoked garlic of northern France. Its production is concentrated around the town of Arleux in the Pas-de-Calais region, and it represents ten percent of French garlic production. The cloves are pink, but smoking over a peat fire obscures their color and turns the outer skins deep golden and slightly sticky. The reason for the smoking is the climate. The north is damp, without enough sun to dry the garlic; the smoke preserves it, preventing it from getting moist and spoiling.
Garlic generally lasts well until Christmas, though certain varieties are given a mild heat treatment that extends their shelf life until May. Contrary to popular wisdom, garlic is best kept in a dark spot at room temperature. If there is a green germ inside a garlic clove, it should be removed. There is nothing wrong with it other than its texture, which is somewhat tough.”
AIOLI ( GARLIC MAYONNAISE)
This sauce evokes Provence at its productive best, in summer, when farms and family gardens are at their peak, yielding vegetables with an incomparable depth of flavor.
Note: When making aioli—or any mayonnaise-style sauce—think slow, slow, slow as you add the oil. If you do, then you’re guaranteed success. But if the aioli does separate, put an egg yolk in another bowl and slowly whisk the separated aioli into it.
6 garlic cloves, green germ removed
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 large egg yolks
2 cups (500 ml) grape seed or other neutral oil
1/2 cup (120 ml) fine quality, extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1. Make a paste of the garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle, by working the pestle around slowly, always in the same direction, in the mortar. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, either finely mince the garlic with the salt, transfer it to a medium-sized bowl and press on it with a wooden spoon until it makes a rough paste; or simply mince the garlic and salt together in a food processor and transfer the mixture to a medium-sized bowl.
2. Whisk in the mustard and egg yolks until they are blended with the garlic and salt. Then, using either the pestle or a whisk, add 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the neutral oil very slowly in a fine, fine stream, until the mixture becomes thick. Don’t add the oil too quickly or the mixture will not emulsify.
3. Add 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice to the oil and garlic mixture, then add the remaining oil very, very slowly, whisking or turning the pestle constantly. The aioli will gradually thicken to the consistency of a light mayonnaise. Adjust the seasoning, and add more lemon juice if it needs more tang. If it becomes very, very thick you might add 1 tablespoon of warm water to loosen it.
4. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Aioli will keep for several days in the refrigerator, in an airtight container, but is best served within 24 hours of being made.
About 6 servings
Susan Herrmann Loomis teaches cooking classes in Normandy and Paris. www.onruetatin.com.
by Susan Herrmann Loomis for France Today