I’ve been judging garlic for the Australian Food Awards for 5 years now. These awards are run by the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria for commercial growers, but you might want to start a garlic competition in your town or region so I thought I should tell you how it’s done. It’s a fascinating and exhausting process. When we first started we really had no idea of the ‘right’ way to judge garlic. But after a lot of research, thought and discussion we settled on a process.
Each entry is judged on its own. They are not ranked in comparison to any other garlic. We try to balance the judges so that there are two with a really good knowledge of garlic, and two (generally chefs) with really good palates so they can pick up the nuances in flavour. The judges award points for uniformity of bulbs and cloves (shape, size, colour). And for the condition of the bulb and cloves (freshness, cleanliness, physical condition ie no disease). And points for quality (firmness, true to varietal type) and aroma. The balance of points goes to taste (both raw and baked). Each entry consists of at least 5 bulbs.
All the garlic is unpacked by the Food Awards staff and identified by numbers only, so there is no possibility of the judges knowing who grew the garlic or having any idea which region or state it came from.
Each bulb is inspected closely for plumpness, firmness and strength of skins, one bulb is then pulled apart and the cloves, clove bases and skins looked at. Several cloves are then peeled and the flesh of each clove inspected. Another bulb is cut in half and the plumpness and tightness of the cloves and clove skins observed. If, during this process, disease of other problems are noted then another bulb is requested to see if the problem is more widespread. We ask that each garlic grower nominate the Garlic Group and cultivar for their garlic. Where the Garlic Group is entered as unknown, or as the wrong Group, the judges try to indicate what Group they think the garlic belongs to. There is no penalty in getting this wrong as there is huge confusion around garlic naming.
We then test the aroma and flavour of each raw garlic bulb. Fortunately we have some delicious garlic grown in Australia, so this is not a trial. Each entry has a clove cut into several slices. The slices were left for a short time to ensure that the chemical changes have time to take place and the allicin, which gives garlic its full flavour, has been released. We learnt early not to swallow every garlic tasted (severe stomach aches can result), we carefully chew the slice, wait to allow flavour to develop and then spit it out. Some garlics are hot to begin with, others develop heat and flavour. We have found that the most effective palate cleansers are blueberries, bread (to remove any bits left in the mouth), and apple slices, with plenty of water to rinse the mouth between tastings. Individual scores are recorded by each judge and we also try to convey the flavours and characteristics of the garlics we were tasting in the hope that this might help growers with their descriptions and marketing.
After lunch we taste baked garlic, again scoring, and describing the tastes and flavours. Most of us find that lemon sorbet is the best palate cleanser for baked garlic.
At the end, the individual scores for each garlic are tallied by the Australian Food Awards staff and it was only at this point that it becomes clear which garlics had won gold, silver and bronze medals.
But we still don’t know who the actual winners are because the garlic is still only identified by numbers. The Champion garlic is the garlic with the highest score across all categories. Judges have to wait until the results had been publicly released to know who has won medals and who has grown the champion garlic.
Garlic flavours range from mild and sweet, to hot, strong and spicy. Some of the words used to describe garlic flavours are:
Raw garlic: savoury, sweet, peppery, sulphurous, nutty, spicy, vegetative, mustardy, earthy, fruity, mellow, fiery, bitey, rounded, kicker, long lasting heat, pungent, mellow, smooth, warm, soft on palate, citrusy, strong, fiery, burning, toasty, bitter, flavoursome, zingy, floral, fragrant, metallic, pow!, acidic, lemony, punchy, herbaceous.
Roasted garlic: Nutty, caramelised, honey, earthy, woody, spicy, smokey, buttery, minty, ferny aroma, creamy, liquorice, woody, roasted potato aroma, caramelly texture, soupy aroma, cooked tomato aroma, buttery, sulphurous.