Australia is now the only country with a continuous supply of fresh, local bulbs, thanks to Greek Australian garlic guru, Nick Diamantopolous.
Industrial chemist turned garlic garlic grower, Nick Diamantopoulos’ passion for garlic began over twenty years ago as a backyard hobby in his garden patch in the rural Victorian region of Gippsland, Australia.
At that time around 95 per cent of garlic sold in Australia was being imported from China as it was extremely difficult to grow because there was no disease resistant garlic varieties in Australia.
Fed up with the poor quality of Chinese garlic in particular, Nick Diamantopoulos had a dream – for Australians to never have to buy imported garlic again.
“I fell in love with garlic because it was so hard to grow,” Mr Diamantopoulos said. “I started doing my own backyard trials and experiments and realised I was on to something.”
Now 55 years old and the chief executive of his business Australian Garlic Producers which he established in 1998, Dianontopoulos embarked on a project that took him on a global quest, travelling from Victoria to Syria, and to the peaks of the Andes in search of the perfect full-bodied clove.
“I had to find garlic varieties that could grow around the different climates of Australia, from the tropics in the north to the cold climate of the south,” he says.
“In Peru I found varieties that had not changed in the 500 years since they were introduced by Spanish conquistadors.”
Over the past two decades, Diamantopoulos has accumulated 292 different varieties of garlic, importing many through quarantine and breeding others locally.
However it was in Senegal that he discovered a tropical variety that was destined to become the first crop of Australian-grown garlic of the season this year.
It was harvested in September on a farm near Robinvale on the Murray River.
Suitable garlic-growing sites have been selected all over Australia, with the most southern in cold, fertile volcanic country near Ballarat.
The most northerly site is at Ali Curung, about 400 kilometres north of Alice Springs where garlic is grown and harvested by the local Indigenous community.
Diamantopoulos’ last garlic will be pulled from the earth in March and will be transported to retailers such as Woolworths and Coles.
The self-confessed garlic addict is now the nation’s biggest producer of fresh and processed garlic products, employing scores of locals at his Iraak-based ‘Australian Garlic Producers’ garlic plant, which produces eight varieties and more than 1,500 tonnes a year.
Safe to say Diamantopoulos is well on the way to releasing his dream of stocking Australian supermarket shelves, with his home-grown bulbs comprising 80 percent of the nation’s total market share.
Diamantopoulos’ labour of love has also resulted in a wider market share for local growers with Australian garlic now accounting for more than a third of supermarket sales, challenging the imports.
Diamantopoulos is adamant that his Greek mother makes the best skordalia (traditional Greek potato and garlic dip) in the world and she is his number one fan.
“She says the garlic is now good enough to make it year-round. The taste has been worth all the effort.”
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