Ottawa food entrepreneur Andrew Craig bets on black, fermented garlic
I wonder, why do so many tasty foods either smell foul, or look less than appetizing — and sometimes both?
Among them, my favourite Korean kimchee is a tangle of not-always-attractive spicy chopped cabbage and other fermented bits, maybe embellished with tiny preserved shrimp, more often than not an unlikely medley — until you taste it. My, so delicious!
Same for homemade sauerkraut with its natural tang and distinctive piquancy that owes nothing to vinegar (not in our homemade version, at any rate). Hotdogs, sausages and St. Paddy’s Day corned beef just aren’t the same without it.
In this camp I would place garlic fermented 30 days under controlled conditions until it’s pungent, a bit stinky if you take a whiff from the plastic bag, and always as black as a lump of anthracite. Not terribly appealing to look at but, oh, in the mouth it explodes with richness reminiscent of dark figs and vanilla, the tang of traditionally aged balsamic, with a faint background sweetness almost like honey.
And, man, as a flavour embellishment it is unique, mixed with an unassertive cream cheese or butter as foil, spread on a cracker or fresh bagel or even sliced thin and served on a small curl of crystalline aged parmesan cheese. Gild the lily with a companion drop or two of 25-year traditional balsamic, and you have finger-food ambrosia.
Against that backdrop, I’m only too excited to report black garlic fermented from Ontario-grown bulbs here in the nation’s capital will soon be available to discerning chefs with a taste for something a bit different, thanks to entrepreneur Andrew Craig, a.k.a. Major Craig’s Chutney, who is taking advance orders for bulbs or black garlic paste in 156-mL tubes for delivery in July.
Last May, Craig revealed plans to produce up to 25,000 bulbs of the stuff on property leased from the National Capital Commission on Ridge Road, near Mer Bleu Conservation Area. (A good place for it, too, because Craig says the fermentation process can really smell — and not in a good way, either, so it’s best to keep far away from suburban sprawl.)
Nine months later, Craig says he is still negotiating with the government agency to lease the property, which houses an abandoned egg-sorting station that could be retrofitted to ferment the garlic.
The idea is to grow some garlic on the farm, ferment it, then ship it to a plant in Hawkesbury where the black cloves would be puréed with distilled water and stuffed into tubes for convenient use and storage.
Craig has been in the Major Craig’s Chutney business three years, selling 25,000 250-mL jars each year. His four chutneys are North India, Classic Caribbean, Butternut and Beer, and Dates with Cranberry. (Craig is developing a mango chutney for spring. “It’s my new addiction,” he says).
As for the garlic, I drew new respect for this black Korean delicacy the other day as Craig dropped by my kitchen for a quick tasting of his little black nuggets. Forewarned, I made the rounds that morning for a few necessities including fresh parmesan, smoked salmon, and fresh bagels from the Kettleman’s shop to supplement my pantry.
A quick skip through the Internet produces various recipes to make black garlic at home, but Craig’s exclusive process developed at La Cité Collégiale in Ottawa is a closely guarded proprietary secret. Put simply, according to the Internet all one must do is tightly wrap pristine whole garlic bulbs in foil, seal them in a heatproof container and pop them into the oven at 140°F for 40 days.
Yes, that’s 40 days. (Not likely, at least not in my house.)
More than just another tasty condiment, black garlic is actually very good for you, with almost twice the amount of antioxidants as regular garlic. It’s low in fat, rich in natural sugars and amino acids, and as it ferments the nutrients produce melanoidin, a dark substance that turns the cloves jet-black.
Most of the stuff you get in Canada — if you can find it — comes from Korea, but sadly the imported variety is more candied and a bit hard, like cutting into a dry fig. Craig’s black garlic, on the other hand, is supple and slices without complaint, which makes it easy to incorporate into a sauce or, in our tasting in the celebrated Omnivore’s Ottawa test kitchen, folded into rather bland Philadelphia cream cheese to spread on same-day bagels. We tried it just like that, then with a strip of smoked salmon, then with smoked salmon and roasted red pepper fillets.
It just kept getting better, each time the garlic contributing a rich, earthy and slightly tangy nuance that just seemed to make brunch all the more unique.
Our ultimate taste that morning: Shaved black garlic on a curl of parmesan, dabbed with two drops of 25-year-old traditional balsamic. Imagine the richness of crystalline aged cheese, the tang of mellow balsamic, with the earthy notes of garlic with none of the assertiveness you’d expect from a “stinking rose.”
“The main market for this is in food service,” Craig suggests, “and, for chefs, having it in a tube is much more convenient because all you have to do is squeeze out the purée and, as the tub collapses, it keeps out oxygen to ensure longer storage life — like a tube of toothpaste.” Refrigerated, a tube should keep about one year, he says.
Tubes at 156-mL each are planned for delivery in July, when Craig expects to have 2,500 boxes ready at two tubes per box, for the initial price of $50 including tax and delivery.”
“I’m calling it my pre-order special because I expect subsequent batches will sell in the order of $40 a tube.” That compares to about $40 a pound for imported unprocessed black garlic, Craig says. Each Major Craig’s tube of paste contains the equivalent of one pound of unprocessed fermented Canadian garlic, all from Ontario farms.
“At home I’ve done marinades with black garlic, honey and cane sugar vinegar I found at Food Basics,” Craig says. “It’s more like a rub, actually, which I use on rib steaks slow-cooked on the barbecue.
“The simplest thing I’ve made is black garlic butter, about a 50-50 mix of butter and garlic, which I smear on toast. It’s also great on garlic bread you may serve on the side with spaghetti and tomato sauce.”
Craig is convinced chefs will take black garlic to new heights once they get their hands on samples. “They can incorporate it in sauces, marinades. What we did today with black garlic and cream cheese is so simple, and so delicious.”
Craig’s pre-order offer has been posted online just a few days, and already he’s sold well over 100 boxes. Check the website blackgarlic.ca for details.
Craig will be showing off his new product in Toronto at the Canadian Restaurant Foodservices Association show, March 3 to 5 at the Direct Energy Centre.
I wouldn’t be surprised that once food writers discover it, they’ll rush to get out the good news.