The Isle of Wight's garlic king
PUBLISHED: 11:44 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:33 20 February 2013
Emma Caulton meets entrepreneur, explorer and farmer Colin Boswell, the unconventional producer of an unusual English crop - garlic
Colin Boswell's relationship with garlic is verging on obsession. He has not only farmed garlic on the Isle of Wight for decades, but has turned it into a range of enticing relishes, an annual festival and an adventure (or should I say pilgrimage?).
Last year Colin travelled to Kazakhstan, trekking into the wilderness of the Tien Shan mountains searching for Allium Longicuspis - the mother of all garlic. I can't imagine many producers would travel half way round the world in search of the origins of their crop. But Colin isn't a typical producer. He's even a bit of a garlic evangelist - extolling the many health benefits of garlic (among other properties, it is an antiseptic, killing both bacteria and fungi, a powerful antioxidant and is believed to kill MRSA). Colin probably does garlic better than the French do, certainly he grows varieties no longer available in France or Italy.
Colin took over the garlic farm from his parents and now his five children are all involved in the business, too. It all began when his mother started growing garlic in her kitchen garden back in the seventies. His parents were farmers and were already growing sweetcorn, but wanted another crop. They realised that garlic, particularly in the hot summers of 1975 and 1976, grew well in the free-draining soil of the Isle of Wight's Arreton Valley. A number of garlic types were trialled; the best results came from garlic originating from the Massif Central in France and this Auvergne garlic has become the basis for what is now Solent White - a garlic with real strength and bouquet that keeps well.
For all your garlic needs
The Garlic Farm shop is discovered down a single track lane with passing places only. Even in a downpour it's incredibly pretty - and busy, too. It is part old cart shed, part swish chalet with a rather spectacular frontage of Isle of Wight macrocarpa. Outside there's a courtyard and sheltered veranda where you can enjoy tea and cake.
Inside it's an eaves-high, flagstoned floor space with everything for the garlic lover. Altogether there are about 20 chutneys and pickles including three hot pickles to try - but the three hottest aren't even put out to sample, they're that serious.
And what about Colin, does the garlic aficionado have a favourite? Yes - Moldovian garlic, a really beautiful purple, sweet garlic. Grab some if you find it, but do try the oak-smoked garlic, too, and a jar of vampire's revenge. If you dare.
A year on the farm
Garlic is planted from October
First in the ground is the Elephant garlic. Eschalote grise (grey shallots) follows, then Early Wight (the first garlic bulbs to crop in the country). Early Wight has a fresh and zingy taste and is at its best immediately after harvest.
Garlic harvest takes place from May to July with Early Wight in May, followed by Purple Wight in June. This is a strong, hearty garlic that will keep until December. Next is Solent Wight, a long-keeping garlic with wonderful bouquet, length and breadth of flavour.
If there is any secret to growing good garlic it is how it is handled at harvest and dried. Thorough drying, cleaning and plaiting ensures regrowth is delayed as long as possible.
Shop 'til you drop
Monday to Saturday 9.30am to 5pm; Sunday 10am to 4pm.
The Garlic Farm, Mersley Farm, Newchurch, Isle of Wight,
tel: 01983 865378
The annual Isle of Wight Garlic Festival is held mid-August and features music, food and entertainment. It was started 25 years ago as a fundraising vehicle for the village school and community hall. Today, attracting 25,000 people, it has put garlic on the map, but has outgrown the village, raising funds for charities across the Island.
Garlic has been proven to
Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
Prevent patelet aggregation
Contain powerful antioxidants