Compared to traditional garlic, the bulbs of elephant garlic or giant garlic are large in size but have a reduced number of cloves, generally 1 to 6.
It is a hardy plant that adapts to all soils, although it prefers loose ones, and does not require any special care. The elephant garlic is very delicate and digestible, as are its leaves and inflorescences, which are also used in cooking.
Elephant garlic is sown by hand, preferably from the end of October to mid-November, with cloves spaced approximately 10-15 cm apart. The rows are spaced 60-70 cm apart to allow for mechanical weed control. From the end of April to the beginning of May, garlic begins to flower with the emission of a long flowering scape that needs to be removed before it lignifies: at this stage, elephant garlic looks very much like a leek. From the second half of June the garlic starts to dry out, and in early July it is ready to be harvested. Harvesting must take place before it rains on the now-dry crop, as wetting the dried stalks causes the ‘sheaths’ containing the cloves to break apart, resulting in loss of product. The plants, harvested whole, are left to dry further for a couple of weeks. The garlic is stored in a dry place in the dark.
Research carried out by the Persolino-Strocchi Agricultural Institute in Faenza, in collaboration with the San Vitale Società Cooperativa sociale of Ravenna, has made it possible to trace the history of the reproduction of giant garlic or elephant garlic in this area, and to get in touch with Mr Pietro Bentini, a hobbyist gardener who has now passed away, who grew it in his vegetable garden using organic methods. According to him, this variety of garlic did not need any fertilising or treatment, as it was very hardy and not afraid of competition with weeds. Bentini told how he had been growing this type of garlic since his youth, on the advice of an elderly farmer who had given him bulbs at the time.
Today, and for at least a century, this variety is present in very limited quantities and is grown by a few isolated producers in Romagna.
Although garlic with similar characteristics can be found in various parts of the world, from New Zealand to South America, but also in Italy, such as the Val di Chiana aglione in the province of Arezzo, the variety described is a clone that has been present and reproduced in the area for over a century and therefore deserves to be protected and enhanced.