I first met both Cam Woods and Charlie Unwin through our sponsorship relationship with the Nelson Arts Festival and they have been an important part of the reason my wife’s business, Savage & Savage Chartered Accountants has continued the sponsorship for so many years.
Woods no longer works for the Arts Festival but as he is the Cellar Door Manager at Neudorf Vineyards I see him regularly; Unwin is responsible for programming and delivery of the Nelson Arts Festival and the 2016 festival in October will be his 6th.
Working as part of a very small festival team Woods and Unwin became firm friends as well as colleagues while their background working in television helped with their festival roles and had a lot to do with understanding each other’s personality and sometimes unusual sense of humour.
Woods worked in television production before moving to Nelson while you may remember Unwin as Dr DJ Halloran in Shortland St about 10 years ago, a role he had for several months before appearing as Loretta’s teacher in the first few episodes in season one of Outrageous Fortune.
With this sort of background it may surprise you that they are now growing and pickling garlic, it certainly surprised me when I got a facebook invite to like the Cam & Charlie’s Garlic Company page and it reminded me that you just never know what people are up to outside their professional lives.
Last week I sat down with Unwin and asked a simple question – why?
“The idea of growing something has been brewing for a while, we often talked about producing something we are in control of from the garden to the plate and we also wanted to provide New Zealand with a fresh product so we started looking for a product we could grow together.
“I have always liked garlic, it is a super food that is very good for you but most of the garlic sold in New Zealand is imported, sure there is some grown here but the vast majority is imported.”
The pair were also seeing consumer frustration from a lack of New Zealand organically grown products to fill a growing desire for them, there is a space in the market for more organic product; for example more people are looking for organic milk so the demand is growing but the production of organic milk is pretty static meaning there is actually a shortage of organic milk in the market at the moment.
“There is now a second specialist organic shop in Nelson that appears to be trading quite well so that also tells us there is a demand and when you look at all of the organic products on the shelves in supermarkets it just reinforces the fact people are looking for products that are grown and processed with integrity and without the use of unnecessary chemicals” Unwin says.
Woods took on the research role and Unwin credits him with driving the project, he says Woods is passionate about the scientific side of horticulture and has been responsible for ensuring the ground they are growing the garlic in has the right nutrients and acidity balance as well as the best growing conditions.
They have been preparing the garden for some time, rotary hoeing it and adding organic nutrients getting it ready to plant the organic garlic seed bulbs which they first did in 2015 and last summer had their first commercial harvest of about 2,500 bulbs of garlic.
The harvest from the first planting has been pickled, except for about one third of the crop that will be used for replanting, each bulb produces about ten cloves so they pickle seven cloves and keep three for planting and this means the business becomes self-sustaining.
“The real beauty of garlic is that you can use the whole bulb so there is no waste.”
While they are quite small producers at the moment they will be planting between 3500-4000 seed cloves this year and I am sure we will see them outgrow their current site in the future.
But for now the challenge is what do they do with all of the garlic, pickling it is a great option for the pair because the product has many end uses, it is great on antipasto platters, in salads, in sandwiches, you can eat it straight from the jar (something Unwin says he does regularly) and the pickling juice becomes lovely garlic flavoured vinaigrette.
Unwin says you can eat it as it is you don’t need to cook it but if you do you will lose the pickled flavour.
I know that peeling garlic at home is a challenge if you want to keep the cloves whole and when I said to Unwin I thought it would be a nightmare to peel commercial quantities without the use of expensive specialist equipment he told me they have a particular method that they are keeping to themselves at the moment!
The garlic is pickled in apple cider vinegar, secret herbs and spices (which just happen to be listed on the label) and bottled, all by hand at this stage by Woods and Unwin themselves and is being sold via their Facebook page (just search for Cam & Charlie’s Garlic Company) or you will find it at The Old Post Office at Upper Moutere, Neudorf Vineyards, Kete at Mapua, Pomeroy’s Coffee shop in Nelson and at 7010 in Collingwood St.
While pickled garlic is their first product they are selling a small amount of whole organic garlic bulbs and are looking at selling, minced garlic and other garlic products in the future.
Unwin says “we are selling garlic bulbs to help satisfy the demand for New Zealand grown organic garlic, people know it is grown with integrity. New Zealand organic garlic is slightly more expensive than buying an imported product but is well worth paying a little extra for”.
Cam & Charlie’s Garlic Company has also trialed different varieties of garlic and while some of it isn’t the best for pickling you may see it used in another product sometime in the future but in the meantime they have two size jars of pickled garlic – 55g for $7.90 and 245g $19.50 and I can tell you it is delicious.