Stéphane Boutarin is a farmer in the Drôme Provençale region, who fell in love with garlic and is still growing it almost thirty years later. A staunch defender of this cornerstone of French cuisine, he took time out to explain to Taste France how these bold white bulbs are grown.
France has 27 fruits and vegetables with Protected Geographical Indication status, and one of them is garlic. Something Stéphane Boutarin knows all about. In 2009, the farmer, who produces garlic in the small village of Crest, was involved in drafting the specifications of PGI Ail de la Drôme garlic. "When I took over the family farm at the beginning of the 90s, I wanted to diversify my father's business, which had been focused on seed production, and develop the garlic crop. Nowadays, 11 of the 72 hectares (27 of 178 acres) that make up our farm are devoted to garlic", explains Stéphane, his skin already sun-tanned. "My father and I chose this crop when production was mechanized. Previously, the crops were planted and harvested manually…"
Planting and terroir
April: the bulbs, which are planted between October and November using a mechanical planter, develop green shoots around 15 cm (6") in length. Historically, four native varieties are permitted within the PGI: Messidrome, Thermidrome, Messidor and Therador. Two others, Sabadrome and Sabagold, which are also softneck, non-flowering varieties, have recently been added to this list. "Garlic likes the chalky-clay and silty-clay soils of the Drôme region. It only freezes below -10 °C and copes well with our harsh winters", Stéphane explains. The harvest begins at the start of the summer, depending on the year. "If Mother Nature is on our side, we always get heavy rainfall before picking, giving us just the right amount of water that the garlic needs to fully ripen."
Every year, the Boutarin family hosts a group of Travelers. When the time comes to pick, sort and dry the garlic, they set up camp near the farm. "The harvesting stage can be quite time-consuming because of the number of skins covering the cloves. Ideally, you need to leave three or four." The garlic can be pulled up with the stalks and dried for a day or two in the field or they can be removed from the stalks straightaway in the rows. The stems are then left in situ and only the bulbs are collected. "Two days later, the garlics are transferred to a soil removal line. They come out almost white. The heads are then packed into crates and aired. The aim of the drying process, which lasts for approximately three weeks, is to extract around 30% of the water, so that they keep well." Once dry and packaged, the little bags of Drôme garlic find their way to supermarket shelves across France and beyond. "After blanching, our cloves have a delicious, sweet flavor, with a little spiciness."
Montée Peyrambert, 26400 Crest