Vessalico: you are all welcome except… vampires

In the time of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks, garlic was used to increase strength and resistance to fatigue, so much so that athletes in the Olympic games would chew some before the competition.

It was then administered as a remedy for various sicknesses: for Nero’s physician it was excellent for clearing the voice; Ovid and Pliny claimed it was the perfect solution against asthma and poisons;while in Henry IV’s time it was used raw as an antidote to the plague. This miraculous food is also found in literature, particularly that of central Europe, where it was said that a necklace of garlic flowers tied to the head of the bed drove away evil spirits and the dreaded vampires.

In Vessalico, in the small Arroscia valley, one of the best garlic varieties grows undisturbed. In 2000, it was included in the list of traditional (P.D.O.) agri-food products and in the same year it was recognised as a Slow Food Presidium.

In these places, you can participate in the ancient Garlic Fair. Just think that the first edition dates back to 1 May 1760! Numerous stalls are set up on the large Canavei meadow, surrounded by chestnut trees, where you can buy long braids of this garlic, which is appreciated throughout Italy. –

The perfect times to organise your trip to Vessalico are in the summer and autumn, when you can admire the lush nature of the valley. A visit to the “A Resta” cooperative in the hamlet of Lenzari, established in 1999 to protect this production, is a must. It has been cultivated using original methods since ancient times, in small plots of land between 400 and 500 metres above sea level.

What makes this plant a quality product are the seed and the cultivation system, handed down from generation to generation. In cultivation, the farmers of Vessalico follow very precise, almost “magical” rules.

Once the best cloves, outside the bulb, have been selected, they are planted between October and November “in the old moon”, after being placed overnight in a solution of water and copper products. The furrows are dug by hand, as they used to be, and covered with a little soil. Grass, which grows around the bulbs, is also removed by hand.

They then wait patiently until the last weeks of June, when the plants are uprooted. Once they have reached the right degree of ripeness, they are left to rest for some time in shady places and then packaged in the famous braids (or “reste”). Even their composition is not accidental and is the result of knowledge that has been consolidated over the centuries;garlic plots are made in such a way as to allow slow drying, so that the cloves remain fragrant and usable for more than eight months.

Garlic is great as a seasoning to accompany your dishes. In Liguria, it is the star of one of the best-loved sauces: pesto!

Two recipes are famous in Vessalico and Valle Arroscia: garlic soup and the famous Aiè (garlic sauce). If you want to try your hand at their preparation, all you need to do is get the few ingredients and follow a few simple steps. The result will amaze you!

Ingredients for garlic soup: 200 grams of stale bread, 4 cloves of fresh garlic, 4 eggs, extra virgin olive oil, one bay leaf, salt and black pepper.
Garlic soup preparation: in a high-sided pan, fry the garlic crushed in a mortar in oil, add the bread slices and the bay leaf. Cover with water, season with salt and pepper and simmer until smooth. Separately, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and pour them over the soup, continuing cooking until they are set. Serve with raw oil and a side dish of radishes.

Ingredients for Aiè (garlic sauce): two cloves of fresh garlic, one egg yolk, extra virgin oil, salt.
Preparation for Aiè (garlic sauce): Pound the garlic in a mortar until smooth, add the egg yolk, salt and oil until creamy. Serve with boiled potatoes, boiled vegetables and wholemeal bread croutons.