Garlic Unites a Crowd at the Brick Works
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Garlic Unites a Crowd at the Brick Works

At the third-annual Toronto Garlic Festival, people came together to enjoy their favourite bulb.

Bulbs galore at the Toronto Garlic Festival.

Toronto Garlic Festival founder Peter McClusky speaks in a reverent tone about garlic—which makes sense, in a way. He has the zeal of the converted. McClusky spent most of his adult life working in digital photography. Then in 2009, he packed it all in to try his hand at farming. Initially, garlic was a last resort after his other crops failed to take. Since then, though, the pungent bulbs, which grow on farms across Ontario, have become an all-consuming passion.

“I wrote a business plan for how I could sell my garlic, and I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I do some kind of event?'” he said. “Then the idea percolated for a couple of days, and I realized that it could be much bigger than selling garlic. So the irony is, even though I grow garlic, I haven’t actually sold any garlic. I’ve been too busy with the festival.”

This year’s event, which took place on Sunday, saw an estimated 7,000 people make their way out to the Evergreen Brick Works for a garlicky good time. McClusky believes garlic gets an undeservedly bad rap. “People’s concern over things like garlic breath are vastly overblown,” he said. In fact, he sees garlic as a great uniter of people.

“Garlic is universally loved, so the admission is only five bucks to draw everybody,” he said. “Toronto is a brilliant city with people from all parts of the world, and they all love garlic.”

Indeed, if the turnout at the Garlic Festival was any indicator, the bulbous plant may represent mankind’s best hope for world peace and intercultural harmony. The crowd was made up of a remarkably diverse cross-section of Torontonians—representing all ages, races, and genders—all of whom came together to sample spreads, oils, chutneys, and other garlicky concoctions. The event also featured a garlic-breath contest, sponsored by the Ontario Science Centre.

An Ontario Science Centre employee gets ready to test for garlic breath.

“People initially said we should get a mouthwash sponsor, but that’s not what we want. We want to celebrate garlic,” said McClusky. “So instead, we have a garlic-breath contest. They actually measure your garlic breath with a gas chromatograph, so it’s fun, but it’s also educational.”

A number of Ontario garlic farmers showed up at the event. They sold bulbs for both planting and cooking, and spent some time telling attendees about what makes each strain of garlic different. Heather MacMillan, of Little Trickle Farm in the Ottawa Valley, said that too many people think of garlic as having a particular taste. In reality, the bulb can produce a wide array of flavours.

“I’ve done a few raw-garlic taste tests, and you can taste the difference between different strains,” she said. “I like that. Check broadleaf is one of my favourites, and it stores a really long time, which is nice. But I also like some of the spicier ones for roasting.”

She added that the festival was a sales bonanza for her farm.

“We’re small—we only grow about 4,000 plants,” she said. “Just today, we’ve sold half of what we wanted to sell this year.”

Major Craig’s black garlic.

The booth for Ottawa-based Major Craig’s had one of the festival’s hottest items, black garlic. Originally from Korea, black garlic is regular garlic put through a special 45-day fermentation process. The end result is a clove with a soft texture and an almost syrup-like flavour. Major Craig founder Andrew Craig said black garlic is on the verge of having a culinary moment.

“A friend of mine introduced me. He’s a chef, and I got interested,” Craig said. “I call this the new saffron. Most people who are home cooks don’t always know what to do with it, but when really experienced chefs get a hold of it, they know exactly what to do with it. Brad Long was in today and did a risotto, and it was phenomenal.”

McClusky is just happy to see that there are so many people who love garlic as much as he does.

“When I started this, I had no idea it was going to be this big,” he said. “This is incredible.”