Aglio di Vessalico is a variety of garlic grown in Liguria, widely recognized as a basic ingredient of Ligurian cuisine and an integral part of the Mediterranean diet. It is also a Slow Food presidium, given the fact that only a handful of farmers keep growing it in tiny plots of land clinging to mountain slopes, handing down the bulbs for generations, along with the cultivation and braiding technique.
It is precisely the area of farming that give the Vessalico garlic its characteristics: grown in the 11 towns that make up the territory of the upper Arroscia Valley, at the foot of the Alps, it is influenced by the mild climate of the area, a combination of mountain and coastal air.
Aglio di Vessalico is grown on the classic Ligurian terraces, positioned on the hillsides and supported by stone walls. Here, the soil is light and rich in texture, and the plots of land are put at rest on rotation to avoid excessive use and subsequent impoverishment of the soil. Growing is completely manual and organic.
Planting takes place between October and January, while the harvest takes place in late June. Immediately after harvesting, the garlic is left to dry in the shade for some time (this practice increases its shelf life) and then braided in the classic "reste" (braids made with the garlic bulbs). The garlic heads are not cut from the plants, nor trimmed of their roots, which causes the garlic to keep fresh and fragrant even 8 to 10 months after the harvest; the braiding only occurs in the morning or during evening and night hours, because the higher humidity of the garlic leaves facilitates the process.
Flavorful yet delicate, the Vessalico garlic is easy to digest and has many healthy properties: it is anti-bacterial, antioxidant, anti-hypertensive and anticancer.
A typical local dish that employs the Vessalico garlic is Aiè, a cream made with fresh garlic cloves, egg yolk, extra virgin olive oil and salt, mixed in the mortar and served with boiled potatoes or vegetables, accompanied with whole wheat grilled bread.
Every year on the 2nd of July, Vessalico hosts the “fiera dell’aglio”, a garlic festival which has been held for the past 200 years, the perfect opportunity to buy the aglio di Vessalico. Considering that it keeps for months, it poses no problem bringing it home!
For more Italian products protected by the Slow Food presidia, check out ITALY Magazine's Slow Food series.