By opening the door of the vehicle, a smell of garlic tickles our nostrils. No doubt: we are on our way. These flavors, reminiscent of Tuscan trattorias, emanate from the premises of Une touche d’ail, where tons of bulbs are stored, cleaned, dried and packaged, when they do not end up being transformed into tasty products that have won several awards. .
On the shore of Lake Saint-François, near the American border, vacationing and agriculture coexist. It is this last aspect that interests us as we drive towards Saint-Anicet, motivated to discover the process by which we are now able to produce Quebec garlic all year round.
They are barely in their twenties. Nicolas Taillefer and Karine Fournier, however, run their business – which has become the largest garlic producer in Quebec by area – at full steam and with a strong grip. A touch of garlic is in its seventh year of existence, but it is already inviting itself into the big leagues. This year, it will compete with products from China and Spain on the shelves of IGA supermarkets with one goal in mind: to ensure its presence there 12 months a year.
At 15, Nicolas Taillefer planted his first cloves of garlic under the amused eye of his grandfather. These 1000 cloves, introduced into the lands of the patriarch, made it possible to obtain a fruitful harvest. Curiosity gave way to pride: “When he saw a grocery truck go by, he said to me: ‘One day, I’m going to fill it!’ I never doubted for a moment that he was going to succeed. He has always been valiant and then… he’s my grandson! », says Yves Saucier, his eyes sparkling.
At the age when others are entrusted with the mission of seducing their classmate, the young man had already settled the matter and was taking the next step: starting his small business. His sweetheart, Karine Fournier, fell in love with a garlic enthusiast in the sports-studies program, got involved in the business from the beginning and is now co-owner. “I had an entrepreneurial spirit. At 10 years old, I was already looking for an agricultural project, says the main person modestly. I have had a garden since I was very young. This fascinates me! »
“But why the garlic? asked the grandfather. Good question, Mr. Saucier. “Because there was mostly imported garlic on the shelves,” replies the grandson. I wondered why we couldn’t offer local garlic in winter, when garlic from elsewhere can be preserved. We traveled, we went to see what was happening in Europe and we did tests. The results are conclusive.
This year, the garlic is particularly plump, the owners tell us, inviting us to extract a bulb from the ground. It cannot be refused. Uprooted after offering an honorable resistance, the specimen is indeed of large caliber. “A good catch”, we welcome, before noting that our sample blends into the mass. “We’re barely an hour from the grocery store warehouses. Our garlic is bigger, fresher, tastier and juicier than imported products. »
As soon as the manual harvesting of the garlic flower ends, in mid-July, the troops continue with the collection of garlic: intensive work which is done day and night, if necessary, to extract the garlic. garlic at the height of its flavor. In mid-August, the facilities are filled with this loot which will be processed until next summer. It will be washed, dried, stored and packaged. Bulbs that do not meet industry standards will be transformed into puree, sauce or pesto, which helps reduce food waste, argues Karine, who supervises this production.
In the preservation chambers, humidity, temperature, airflow and static pressure are controlled. These factors, we understand in broad terms, allow the garlic to be preserved as if it had been cryogenized. Still it works. The garlic remains surprisingly firm and fresh and thus retains its aromas.
In 2020, four years after its debut, the company signed a contract with IGA. Two years later, its products were distributed throughout Quebec in season. To provide it year-round, the Une Touche d’ail team has tripled its production year after year and now seeks 85 acres of pesticide-free land, dedicated to the king of bulbs. “It’s a lot of investment, but we went for it and bet everything without being afraid,” said Nicolas Taillefer. And that’s how a teenage project became a success story. Let’s face it, “We won’t stop until there’s Quebec garlic in every grocery store!” »
Garlic is kept on the counter and never in the fridge, where it loses its flavor and longevity. A bulb should be firm to purchase. A paper wrapper, like the one in which A Touch of Garlic presents its products, is sufficient to keep the garlic for three months at room temperature.