Published in the April 12 – April 25, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Will Rogers knew Gilroy’s garlic industry.

Will Rogers enjoyed visiting our South Valley region, sometimes hanging out with ranch hands during branding season at the Quien Sabe Ranch in San Benito County. In the 1930s, the cowboy comedian would stop at the Milias Hotel in downtown Gilroy where he’d enjoy a tasty meal at its restaurant. In one of his newspaper columns, Rogers even made a joke about the city’s garlic ag industry, calling Gilroy “the only place in America where you can marinate a steak by hanging it on a clothesline.”

Rogers might appreciate how much the South Valley’s garlic reputation has grown in the past 80 or so years since he last visited. Christopher Ranch in Gilroy is one of the world’s premiere growers of garlic. And the George Chiala Farms in Morgan Hill also grows garlic and mushrooms — and its namesake founder developed ingenious ways to process garlic, including a method to make dissolvable garlic for commercial use in gravy mixes and salad dressings.

Rogers would be impressed with the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival and how it brings people from around the world to taste foods and beverages related to “the stinking rose.” And now the Gilroy Downtown Business Association is getting involved in expanding the city’s garlicky reputation, with retail and restaurant merchants celebrating April as National Garlic Month — and a special National Garlic Day-themed evening mixer at Bella Viva Ristorante April 19.

Fittingly for Will Rogers, Morgan Hill Life publisher Marty Cheek recently sat down for lunch at Milias with the business association’s coordinator, Melanie Corona, and board president, Gary Walton, to discuss the plans for the garlic celebration through April.

The downtown Gilroy merchants will have special promotions, including participating businesses giving free raffle tickets to people who come into their stores for a chance to win a gift basket filled with various items from the stores.

Farm tourism is a growing industry right now, and the South Valley region with its ag industry and rural heritage is well positioned to draw visitors interested in learning where their food comes from. Maybe next year in April, Morgan Hill’s downtown could get into the fun with Gilroy and have garlic-themed dishes in its restaurants’ menus and make the celebration a regional event for the South Valley. Perhaps we can even set up a friendly cook-off competition to see who really has “got garlic.”

That would help to market South Valley’s famous herb far beyond our borders. We’d love to see more joint events connecting the two cities’ downtowns. Celebrating garlic in April might be one way to do this.

Maybe people might get into the celebration spirit and put on garlic hats or even dress up as garlic bulbs as they shop and go into the restaurants and order garlic-laced food from the menus.

One product we would also love to see served in April at local restaurants in both Morgan Hill and Gilroy is garlic beer brewed specially for our region. Walton told Cheek that he had a brewmaster put together a dark garlic-flavored beer. It uses black garlic, which is fermented to make molasses-like sugar. People who got a taste of this concoction came back for seconds, he said.


“I tried it and I think it would be great with a nice steak,” he said. “It has a garlic after-bite a little bit. It’s still garlic, but fermenting it makes it totally different.”

Walton’s comment on garlic beer prompted a Google search of the product to see how popular it was. We found, much to Cheek’s ancestral delight (with his distant relative, Sir John Cheke, keeping his Tudor times manor there), that the Isle of Wight in the southern tip of England has an annual summer garlic festival that brings in about 25,000 visitors. This year’s festival will be held Aug. 19 and 20. One of its popular attractions is beer made with black garlic.

Perhaps some enterprising local brewery might wish to make a large batch of similar garlic-laced suds for this year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival. Just like garlic ice cream is always a hit, it could very well be the talk of this year’s festival, which will be held at Christmas Hill Park July 28 to 30.

Meanwhile, get your garlic fix this month in downtown Gilroy among the stores and restaurants. April is the time to celebrate the pungent herb that, with a little help from Oklahoma’s comic cowboy in the 1930s, made our South Valley region internationally famous.

Robert Airoldi

Robert Airoldi

Robert Airoldi is the editor of Morgan Hill Life newspaper. If you have a story idea or an Around Town column item you want to tell him about, you can reach him at (408) 427-5865 or at
Robert Airoldi