Pros: Strong garlic flavor, good keeping properties, huge cloves.
Cons: Low reproduction rate, fared poorly in a very rainy spring.
2007 was the first year I ordered garlic and planted it in my garden. I chose six hardneck varieties and all of them were trouble-free and gave me a good harvest the following year. In 2008 I replanted the same varieties from seed stock I had saved from my first crop. This year, 2009, brought us an unusually wet spring. So I've had a chance to see which of the six varieties have held up to less than ideal growing conditions.
The Romanian Red is one of the four varieties that looked so poorly after the heavy rain that I ended up harvesting it about three weeks early, lest the plants rot in the ground. Nevertheless, the bulbs I ended up with look surprisingly good. Some of the bulbs were on the small side, of course, but others were larger than their above-ground portions would have suggested.
Garlic is broadly divided into two major types: hardneck and softneck. You've probably seen both of them if you do much cooking. Hardneck bulbs contain a stiff central stem or "neck", and the cloves tend to all be of roughly equal size, each one touching the central neck. There will be few if any small interior cloves. If you cut the top off a hardneck bulb, the shape and arrangement of the cloves looks like a pie cut into several pieces. Softneck types form cloves in a spiral sort of pattern, with different sized cloves at any given time, and there is no central neck in these bulbs. Hardneck varieties do better in cold climates and have more fiery flavors, while softnecks tolerate warmer climes and tend to store better.
The most notable characteristic of Romanian Red garlic is that it usually forms medium size heads that consist of very few cloves. Typically, there are only four enormous cloves in the head, though I sometimes see a few with as many as six cloves. Even with only a medium-sized head, if one clove makes up a fourth of it, that means it's a monster clove. Even the smaller Romanian Red cloves are substantially larger than my thumb, and I have large-ish hands for a woman. The disadvantage of this habit of growth is that I need to hold back more heads of garlic to make up the number of cloves I want to plant for the following year. Each clove planted is likely to only quadruple over the growing season. Other garlic types that produce heads with lots of cloves are better (by the grower's lights) than the Romanian Red at reproducing themselves.
Last year the Romanian Red garlic stored for about six months after harvest before beginning to sprout. That's about as much as can be expected from any hardneck variety. Within the hardneck classification, Romanian Red is further categorized as a porcelain garlic. Porcelains are known to store better, and have stronger medicinal properties than most other types of garlic.
Romanian Red garlic has the extremely assertive garlic flavor typical of hardneck varieties. Without a doubt this is better quality garlic, both in terms of taste and texture, than I can find in any supermarket. As with my other hardneck garlics, I often need to use a knife to pry a clove loose from the bulb, so firmly held are the cloves. The Romanian Red outer wrappers are mostly white with a few reddish streaks here and there. The innermost layers are quite red, though the cloves themselves are almost white.
On the whole I am pleased with the Romanian Red variety. However, it might be one that I drop from my planting list on the basis of its behavior during our very wet spring and the fact that each head is capable of producing only a few heads the following year if used for seed stock. While other varieties I grew also had a hard time with the wet soil, they have the advantage of multiplying well. Its keeping qualities argue in its favor, but I would only drop it in favor of a softneck type of garlic, all of which are known to store better than hardnecks.
If you're considering growing garlic in any of the cooler zones of the US or Canada, I can certainly recommend hardneck varieties in general for the ease of growing and for their very strong garlic flavor. Unless you are growing with the aim of using garlic medicinally however, you might want to consider carefully before buying seed stock for Romanian Red garlic. I would not recommend this garlic for any area with very wet soils.