What do the menus at Aniar in Galway, the Greenhouse in Dublin and celebrity chef Donal Skehan’s wedding have in common? The answer is that they have all featured garlic grown at Drummond House in County Louth.
This 100-acre farm has been in Peter Collier’s family for 150 years, but it wasn’t until Peter’s wife Marita had children and wanted to work from home that they decided to grow garlic.
The couple started by sourcing seeds from disease-free growers and in 2013, they planted one acre as a trial run.
They ran into lots of problems. That April was the driest on record, which meant their garlic was starved of water. They didn’t fertilise, which meant they had a low yield. And they left the crop in the ground too long and didn’t have their drying sheds ready in time for the harvest.
“We had to buy polytunnels, which blew away in a storm, soaking three-quarters of the crop,” says Marita.
Despite all that went wrong, the garlic that survived was of exceptional quality. “It tasted amazing, which made us even more determined the next year,” says Marita.
[pull_quote_center]We planted four acres the following year and seven acres last year, all with different types of garlic.[/pull_quote_center]
Because October is planting month, Marita is currently busy breaking up bulbs. “Each clove is a seed and we have to take the paper off and pop each clove by hand,” she says. “Then we plant them in the fields. This year, we’ll be planting 1000kg of elephant garlic, 1000kg of regular garlic and two other varieties as well as trying out small amounts of three new varieties in our trial patch.”
Their elephant garlic is their most popular variety. “Its taste isn’t too strong; it’s got more of a nutty, garlicy, leek flavour,” says Marita. “Because it’s big, you can cook a whole bulb and eat it. You can make it into crisps. And it’s great mixed into creamy mashed potatoes.”
Drummond House Garlic has already built up a following among chefs and food enthusiasts. Marita supplies her local Centra store, butcher and fishmonger as well as the Honest to Goodness Market in Dublin. Fallon and Byrne and Donnybrook Fair are interested and La Rousse Foods have also taken them on, supplying their garlic to restaurants nationwide.
Plans for the future involve supplying high-end shops and restaurants all over Ireland. “We could never supply supermarkets,” says Marita. “Garlic takes nine months to grow and you can’t use the same patch for seven years. You’d need to plant more than 20 acres to supply on the scale supermarkets require and we just couldn’t do that.”
They are also diversifying into asparagus. “We planted half an acre three years ago and had our first harvest this year,” says Marita. “It was phenomenal and we’ve planted another two acres this year.”
However, asparagus – like garlic – has its drawbacks. It takes three years to grow and has a four to five week harvest. It also has to be hand harvested.
“We must be mad,” laughs Marita. “But I’m confident we’ve picked two premium products. There is so much cheap garlic out there that ours blows people’s minds when they taste it. Our asparagus does too.”
Thanks to their hard work and dedication (or madness, if you believe Marita), the Colliers are establishing their farm as the heart of top-quality garlic production in Ireland.
[quote_box_center]For more information on Drummond House and their garlic, visit www.drummondhousegarlic.com.[/quote_box_center]