Take Your Pick of These Garlic Festivals
Now that Gilroy is no longer, which US festival will prove the most seasoned?
In case you haven’t heard, there’s been a shakeup of sorts in the world of American garlic festivals. The celebrated, community-driven Gilroy Garlic Festival in California has officially been minced, peeling its last clove in 2019. Launched in 1979, as the event grew in popularity it transformed one of the town's top crops from a source of embarrassment to being eminently prideworthy. Gilroy became synonymous with the pungent—and healthy!—vegetable, flying high on fragrance and festivities. So much so that next month a coffee table book will be released documenting its legacy.
But now that Gilroy’s fest is kaput, there’s an opening for its bulbous crown. Who will be the new (garlic) toast of the festival circuit? Can anyone even fill its skins? We’ve compiled a list of the smelliest fests around the country for you to make the decision yourself, featuring everything from Garlic Kings and Queens to garlic ice cream. Choose wisely, allium aficionados, and don’t forget to pack mouthwash.
North Plains, Oregon
You've gotta have a sense of humor when you’re throwing a whole festival dedicated to a leading cause of bad breath. Oregon’s is right in their website's URL: Funstinks.com. What began as a small community festival in 1994 has blossomed into three free days of olfactory overtures, dedicated to the leek-like and mild elephant garlic variety. Expect food and craft vendors, a 5K and 10K run, something called the Oregon Reptile Man, and a parade with a Garlic King and Queen, where kids line up to receive not only candy, but garlic cloves. It’s like stinky Halloween.
The Minnesota Garlic Festival, tagline “fun-filled, family, and fragrant,” even has its own newsletter: the Stinky News. And once a year the local garlic growers converge to throw a festival of newsworthy status, with more than 70 varieties. The festival kicks off with a “bulb toss” (like a first pitch in baseball), a Blessing of the Garlic Crop, and an Official Tasting of the Garlic Bloody Mary, all apparently taking place in front of a giant garlic bulb wearing lipstick. The day is packed with chef demonstrations, live music, meet the farmer events with topics like “Bridging the divide between people, food, and place,” jugglers, a community parade and a garlic growing contest where the biggest and the smallest get prizes. When it comes to garlic, everybody wins.
Picking up where the Gilroy Garlic Festival left off (without, it should be said, cooperation or consent from Gilroy), the first annual California Garlic Festival packs a pungent punch with a Garlic Alley serving up garlic fries, garlic pesto, and, for the adventurous, maple brown sugar gar-lick ice cream (sorry). Also for the adventurous: carnival games and monster truck rides. But if you just like to watch, there’s also a Show and Shine hot rod show, cooking demos, a photography contest, and a Miss California Garlic Festival Scholarship Pageant. Please say the crown is shaped like garlic.
Have garlic growing chops of your own? Then you’ll want to hit the Midwest Garlic Fest, where the schedule of events includes a Big Bulb Contest. But even if your thumb is more black than green, you can still enjoy the events produced by the Galena Garlic Company, like a tie dye demo, roasted garlic demo, and live music. Plus, plenty of garlic-infused dishes and vendors like Hoof It Galena, which produces guided hikes with goats, sometimes with wine. Do goats like garlic? Guess we’ll find out.
Maybe you’d like a side of competition with your stinking rose. Every year the Cleveland Garlic Festival hosts Top Chef Grill Offs, when local chefs go head to head in categories like grass fed beef (and garlic) and free range chicken (and garlic). There’s a crowning of Miss Garlic, who is accompanied by her garlic fairies in the parade. Plus live music, a garlic gourmet alley, artist gallery, and craft beer tent. Which, yes, includes a garlic beer. Ask and you shall receive.
Formerly known as Garlicfest, this festival has been stinking up Vermont since 1995. This year, it promises two “cloves” of over 120 vendors selling everything from maple syrup to olive oil and plenty of garlic-themed fare (garlic fudge! Garlic gelato! These are possibly a mistake!). In the past there’s been a Garlic Bulb River Derby where numbered rubber garlic bulbs are released to race down the Walloomsac River, fingers crossed it happens again. But there will definitely be food trucks, hay wagon rides, and boozy experimental concoctions like garlic margaritas, and more traditional garlic bloody mary.
Ocean Park, Washington
For all your fair-adjacent garlic needs there’s the Washington State Garlic Festival in Centralia (August 26-28). But if you want some sea air with your seasoning, head to the Northwest Garlic Festival in Ocean Park, on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, a sliver of outdoor refuge filled with nature walks, beaches (more for strolling than for swimming), oysters, and for one weekend, garlic. Started in 1982 by two local restaurateurs, the festival returns after a two-year hiatus packed with garlic gastronomy and themed home decor and jewelry. You wanted a garlic pendant necklace, right? The vampires probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
Saugerties, New York
California may produce the most garlic per state, but New York loves a festival, with garlic fests in Cuba (September 17-18), the Finger Lakes, Mohawk (September 10), Long Island (September 10-11 and 17-18), and this one in the Hudson Valley. Most likely the oldest garlic fest on the East Coast, it began in 1989 as a promo event, and now spans two days and thousands of visitors, who come to toast garlic and eat garlic toast. Plus vendors, craft booths, demos and lectures, musical performances, and actual garlic. There were 25 farmers booths last year. This year, we reach for the bulbous stars.
The tagline of the Easton Garlic Fest is Eat, Drink, Stink, and they mean it. Everyone gets in the action of this free weekend-long shindig, including the mayors of Easton, Phillipsburg, and Hellertown, who compete in the 3 Mayors’ Cook-Off on Pungent Plaza (presumably the winner gets to be the mayor of all three townships). Visitors are invited to indulge in and vote on the best garlic-laced dishes and desserts. To be followed by some pretty deadly burps, probably.
Fair foods, but make it garlic. In its many culinary offerings, Connecticut’s Garlic and Harvest Festival includes deep fried garlic, homemade roasted garlic sausage with peppers and onions, garlic pizza, and garlic ice cream. Plus the rides to go along with the grub at the kiddie fairground. For adults there’s cooking demonstrations, live bands, and garlic growing lectures. Show up hungry, leave a virtual farmer.