How do I know if garlic is fresh? NYC has notoriously bad produce (it seems).
First test is squeeze -- all cloves should be firm. Sniff -- there should be no smell of mold, hardly any smell at all. And no sprouts -- when sprouting starts, it can be bitter. I try to buy garlic from farmers' markets, or Asian grocers -- anywhere you might find garlic lovers.
if the germ is bright green the garlic is past its prime
When the germ begins to grow, the garlic bulb will swell & split; so if it's not 'closed up', it's probably going to have sprouts within.
Whole Foods has the best garlic if you're buying loose. Garlic from China is not recommended. If you have cool storage (not frig) I recommend buying in bulk from Costco. Both Whole Foods and Costco sell California grown garlic and is the best I've purchased. Garlic from Argentina is also quite good. I keep my garlic in a bin by the kitchen window which gets a certain amount of coolness thanks to our cold winter.
Garlic is a seasonal product---and I live in a region that produces it. It's almost impossible to escape buying it from China and it is good to ask about the source at your grocer. It can be very bitter when cooked. Nothing wrong with Mexican garlic...look for a pinkish flush on the outside of the bulb but you may only be able to find this in the Spring.
Why not buy your garlic at a Farmer's Market? Then you can have a conversation with the man or woman who grew the garlic and find out how it was stored. And you can get a refund next week if you were disappointed in the product.
Also, might the problem be with how you're storing it?
There are some wonderful choices for garlic at the NY Greenmarket in Union Square. It does depend on the time of year and which growers will have garlic, but Keith's Farm and Gorzynski's Farm sell a high quality garlic. When I can't get garlic at the Greenmarket, I order online from a trusted grower. Plus, online you can try so many varieties they all taste so very different & wonderful. http://www.thegarlicstore.com/