Music and 'magic:' What a farmer wants you to know about Ontario garlic

Joann Chechalk a garlic farmer near Grimsby, Ont., for the past 20 years and president of the Garlic Grower Association of Ontario talks about Ontario's first garlic week.

Garlic currently puts about $34 to 38 million into the economic engine of Canada, Chechalk said

Garlic should be hard and the shape of well developed cloves should show through the casing. When garlic appears nearly round it's a sign it was harvested too early, according to Majid. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

There's no such thing as too much garlic — that's the message behind Ontario's first-ever garlic week.

Joann Chechalk has been a garlic farmer near Grimsby, Ont., for the past 20 years and is president of the Garlic Grower Association of Ontario.

She spoke with Metro Morning about Ontario garlic and how it is a big contributor to the economy.

This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do you love garlic so much?

Joann Chechalk: "I planted 68 cloves the very first time I did anything about garlic because I wanted to figure out what my grandmother had found so curious about garlic... it was like magic to watch that little clove turn into a whole bulb. And then, when I dried it and my aunts and cousins all came over as they often do and they took it all, I had to up the ante to 200 then 1,000 or 2,000. There's never too much garlic because somebody will always like to take one or 10. 

How much variation is there in garlic species?

JC: About 85 per cent of what's grown in Ontario is a strain called Music. It's very flavourful, has a long shelf life, has an allicin factor, which is the smell when you're cooking with it, and the properties that seem to be medicinal as well as tasty, they're very good in the strain called Music ... there's probably about 80 different kinds of garlic grown in Ontario.

How different are the various strains of garlic?

JC: Some of them, there's a very subtle difference. It could be taste, it could be depth of flavour. With others you're going to get a hot and spicy garlic or you can have something that'll just blow your head off ... for a good percentage of people, they're just looking for that garlic flavour that enhances tomato sauces, soups and roasts. And in Ontario, this generation and forward, are just started to understand garlic. There is garlic scapes, fresh garlic, cured garlic and an array of different processed garlics ... then there's black garlic.

We know garlic is important to cooks, but how significant is it to our economy in Ontario?

JC: Garlic currently puts about $34 to 38 million into the economic engine of Canada ... it's a significant contributor to the economy.

It's the first ever Ontario garlic week. What's happening?

JC: Thanks to Peter McClusky who is the originator of the Toronto Garlic Festival. Years ago he started that festival and it was an overwhelming success. With COVID, it became something that was virtual and that didn't exactly tickle everybody's tastebuds. They wanted to be at a festival and smell the garlic, see the garlic, buy it and taste a number of cultural and cuisine types of opportunities. He came up with this opportunity to call it Ontario Garlic Week. So, you can't go to a festival, you can't see all the things that are normal but what you can do is be much more aware of what Ontario garlic is ... and the value of the Ontario garlic industry.

You can listen to the full interview below: