Everything You Need To Know About How Christopher Ranch Brings Garlic From Farm To Table To The Gilroy Garlic Festival @CRgarlic
With the Gilroy Garlic Festival in full swing in Gilroy in Northern California it seemed like the perfect time to revisit my trip to Christopher Ranch in partnership with McDonald’s. This year the 2018 Gilroy Garlic Festival (July 27, 28 and 29) celebrates 40 years of family fun—along with great garlicky food, live entertainment, and more! The heart of the Garlic Festival is Gourmet Alley, the gigantic outdoor kitchen where the world-famous “Pyro Chefs” put on a spectacular flame-up show while preparing garlic-laced calamari and scampi in huge iron skillets. Other Festival favorites include pepper steak sandwiches, pasta con pesto, fried calamari, and sausage sandwiches, as well as Gilroy garlic fries and garlic bread. And you’ve got to try the only-in-Gilroy garlic ice cream! This year the Gilroy Garlic Festival proudly welcomes Iron Chef Michael Symon, Olympic Champion and Food Network star Brian Boitano, and MasterChef Season 7 Winner Shaun O’Neale to host exciting cooking competitions on the Challenge Butter Cook-Off Stage.
But just how does the garlic go from farm to table and beyond? Here’s a glimpse as to what I learned at Christopher Ranch thanks to our friends at McDonald’s and how one of our favorite seasonal items at our local McDonald’s, Garlic Fries, teams up with Christopher Ranch to create this mouth-watering delight.
It is well known that McDonald’s has a long-standing history of creativity and innovation and is always seeking ways to combine local flavor into a unique, regional offering. McDonald’s Gilroy Garlic Fries are the perfect example of just that approach offering a brand new menu item that is specifically tailored to Bay Area tastes. Nick Vergis, McDonald’s San Francisco Bay Area Co-op president explained, “The innovation of this new menu item is in large part of our local owner/operators and their commitment to providing food our customers want.” As a testament to that, last year when the Gilroy Garlic Fries were first introduced in test locations, they sold out within a matter of two weeks.
So just how did how did McDonald’s Gilroy Garlic Fries and all of the delectable garlic delicacies that we are all enjoying right come to be? Last year I was part of a group that was treated to a special behind the scenes look at where it all starts, the Christopher Ranch located in the heart of garlic country in Gilroy California to see just how McDonald’s Gilroy Garlic Fries go from Field To Restaurant.
The family owned and operated Christopher Ranch has been part of the Santa Clara Valley since 1956 and it is obvious from the moment you arrive that this is more than a business but a labor of love. Operating under the slogan that “All garlic is not created equal” Christopher Ranch is the largest grower of fresh California garlic in the nation. This family farm focuses on garlic cultivation and land preservation, all while creating sustainably in their production of California heirloom garlic that is flavorful, fresh, healthy and safe.
The origins of this family run business actually date back to the 1890’s when immigrant farmer Ole Christopher left Denmark for the long journey to America. He had heard stories about the dark, fertile soil of America’s “salad bowl,” and knew he’d found the ideal spot for his family to settle when he first arrived in the Santa Clara Valley. Over the next years, the family worked together to cultivate their dream and in 1956 Don Christopher and his brother, Art, decided to try their luck with a new kind of crop: Garlic.
Planting French and Italian varieties, Don also found a variety of garlic that he thought was the most flavorful he had ever tasted. It had been cultivated in Italy for centuries, originating in the Piedmont area. Don planted this varietal, and it became the Ranch’s signature garlic, Monviso.
Christopher Ranch has nurtured its Monviso heirloom seed line for over 50 years producing more than 90,000,000 pounds of garlic each year, some of which makes its way into the 240 McDonald’s of the Greater Bay Area becoming the key ingredient of Gilroy Garlic Fries.
The family legacy and tradition lives on today with Ole’s great grandson, Bill, now at the helm of Christopher Ranch, the largest grower, packer, and shipper of California garlic for the fresh market. Overseeing 4,000 acres of crops including garlic, bell peppers and shallots, Bill stewards the business with the same steadiness of purpose and dedication to quality that has been the hallmark of the family for over 60 years.
It is this family devotion and dedication to what they do that is seen over and over again and the one thing that struck me the most is their commitment not just to their product but the people that work with them to bring that product from field to restaurant and beyond. They shared with us that they feel strongly in investing in their workers who in turn over the years have become a part of their extended family and this investment shows in everything they say and do.
Whether it was out in the fields or touring the production building, or whether it was the planting or the harvesting or the various stages of production that the garlic bulbs travel through, the one thing that stood out through every step of the process was the commitment to food safety and quality.
You could see firsthand as we toured each of the facilities just how committed they are to giving the consumer the best – and safest – products possible by following strict guidelines to ensure “quality from the ground up”. Simply put, the good people at Christopher Ranch keep food safety in mind so you don’t have to!
Did you know that it is a 9-month process from planting the bulbs to harvest to bringing home the garlic that is so much a part of our everyday life? Think about that-from Gilroy Garlic Fries to garlic bread to the rubs we create, to stir fry cooking to yes, even garlic ice cream, it takes a full 9 months for the garlic to grow and it is only harvested over June and July so what that means is that all of the garlic we consume is only picked once a year! When you think about the fact that Christopher Ranch will produce 90 million pounds this year, just imagine what that must look like.
It’s the cloves that are planted each year that grow into the bulbs and because garlic is a natural pesticide, no other pesticides are needed. Basically, garlic is a simple crop to grow meaning that all you need is garlic, soil and water.
Over the past few years, California was deeply affected by the drought but to help alleviate the drought conditions, Christopher Ranch now uses a drip tape system which allows them to use 50% less water. When May arrives, the water is cut off and tractors are used to help cut off the root part and the garlic is laid out in windrows in the fields to allow it to dry out while protecting it from getting sun burn.
If you happen to be in the vicinity of Gilroy, California during the last weekend of July, do not miss the Gilroy Garlic Festival July 27-29 for great garlicky food, live entertainment, cooking competitions, and lots of fun for the whole family! Here you can try all of the famous Christopher Ranch products for yourself as well as eat your way through Gourmet Alley, the gigantic outdoor kitchen where the world-famous “Pyro Chefs” put on a spectacular flame-up show while preparing garlic-laced calamari and scampi in huge iron skillets as well as other favorites including pepper steak sandwiches, pasta con pesto, fried calamari, and sausage sandwiches, as well as Gilroy garlic fries and garlic bread. And don’t forget the only-in-Gilroy garlic ice cream!
Stay tuned because coming up next we are taking you behind the scenes with McDonald’s to take a look at their Back to Basics philosophy in that simpler is better, as well as their commitment to their local communities and their charitable endeavors.
Disclosure: I was invited on an all-expense paid media trip and compensated for my participation/coverage of the event however all thoughts and opinions expressed here are 100% are my own.