Sam Weston is a joiner by trade but by night (and weekends) he, and his business partner Wayne Hanright, are producing award-winning Black Garlic from the small town of Blackball on the remote West Coast of New Zealand.
“I originally started Blackball Black Garlic with Wayne to earn some extra cash while renovating my house. My cousin in Australia was doing something similar, so I thought we could give it a go too,” explains Weston.
“We began small, however it soon became so popular that we had no choice but to expand what we were doing. And now here we are, about to open our new production factory, which will allow us to move to the next stage of our offering,” he says.
Black garlic is produced by cooking raw garlic in a specialised incubator, for five weeks, where it goes through a number of processes that cause its colour to change. It also results in a complex group of flavours and has numerous health benefits, above and beyond normal, everyday garlic.
Weston credits early wins to the support of his small town community in Blackball, on the South Island’s West Coast. It’s where he lives with his family – his joinery factory on one side and the black garlic kitchen on the other. And while it may sound like a strange combination, it seems he and Hanright have discovered the right ingredients for success.
But that’s not to say there weren’t a couple of hard learnings on the way to get black garlic into production and to where they are today. A lot of this was due to the difficulty in understanding the correct process of how to cook the garlic, as it’s a niche industry where most of the manufacturing elements are confidential.
“At the start we were hand peeling garlic, sometimes till 1am every night of the week. We knew we had to streamline that element, as it definitely wasn’t an efficient use of our time. Now we’ve got it down to a day’s work and it’s done. But it was a real ‘number 8 wire’ mentality that got us to this point.”
Weston also recalls an electrical malfunction that caused the garlic to overcook, which wasn’t discovered until the end of the lengthy five-week cooking process. Thankfully the supplier (of which there are only two in New Zealand) was able to replace their stock and they were able to move on from the mishap. And it’s at the point where Weston and Hanright only have to remind themselves of the position Blackball Black Garlic finds itself in to know that the future of the business is red hot.
“We were lucky to get in when we did because there are only two commercial garlic growers in New Zealand. So one supplies us exclusively, and the other lot goes to someone else. That means the New Zealand garlic market is closed and it puts us in a really good spot.”
However world domination is off the radar – for now anyway. Weston says he and Hanright want to keep their operations on a more boutique scale, not in mainstream supermarkets. They already have a number of local stockists and restaurants, as well as selling direct to consumers online. And if there’s stock left over, they are happy to head to any nearby farmer’s markets.