You might not expect to find a garlic grower on a remote 415-acre farm in north-east Scotland. After all, garlic is more closely associated with the temperate south of England. But we are talking about Hardneck garlic, a variety that loves the toe-numbingly cold winters at the foot of the Cawdor Hills, near Nairn.
This is where Glen Allingham and his wife Gilli live and run the Really Garlicky Company, the UK’s only producer of Hardneck. The porcelain garlic is closely related to wild garlic.
The Allinghams, who are also potato farmers, “stumbled into garlic” in 1999 when Geest was looking for growers to take part in trials in the north of Scotland. Although the fresh food company didn’t follow up on the experiment, the Allinghams saw potential for diversification. “We realised that although we could never compete on the market with Chinese garlic, the Hardneck variety did seem to grow quite well. Its flavour is a lot sweeter and without any harshness,” says Glen.
RGC’s Hardneck is sold in nets of three large bulbs for £1.69, compared with 99p for Chinese garlic. It has proved so popular that RGC can’t keep pace with demand. Production has gone from one acre in 1999 to 20 acres this year.
A third of the annual output of 100,000 nets goes to 144 Waitrose stores nationwide, the rest to delicatessens, farm shops and butchers.
The company has 0.6% of total UK garlic sales and hopes to reach 1% by the end of this year and 2% within two years.
The season for Hardneck runs from August to December, but RGC now offers Patagonian purple garlic - grown abroad, but sold under its brand name - from January to May.
Greg Meenehan