Ballymaloe Cookery School: Week 2

By Sunday, May 11, 2014

 Week 2 has gone by in a's a bit scary thinking about how fast this course will fly by! I think it is the first time in my life that I am working really hard for something and not really feeling any sort of boredom or frustration! I am amazed each day at just how beautiful this place is. We have had some really good and some pretty bad weather this week. But, witnessing a sunny day on Shanagarry beach is worth all of that rain! 

My highlight of the week has got to be finding two pretty mischevious farm cats. I spotted them trying to climb into the hen's bucket and eat scraps...what are they like!

This week has been just as jam packed as the last. Busy mornings of cooking in the kitchens followed by afternoons of demonstrations showing us what we are be making the next day. It is a very full on course, and you really have to love cooking to actually be able to survive here! 

Rory Allen taught us twice this week, talking us through slightly testing practical skills such as how to segment citrus fruits and joint chicken and lamb. What I find so great about this course is that the teachers are so eager for you to learn and consequently are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge. Rory is clearly so passionate about food and an absolute perfectionist, which I really love. Watching him cook during our demonstrations really offers a vision into what some of us could turn into as cooks and this is a real motivator to make us really soak up all of these opportunities whilst we can! 

Rachel Allen also taught us this week. She has such an amazing spirit, full of amazing insight and real finesse. She talked us through dishes such as traditional Irish Soda Bread. I can tell you now that you really haven't experienced anything until you have tried the Ballymaloe Soda is on a whole other level!

Amongst other dishes, I made sweet scones, a rhubarb crumble tart and a roasted chicken breast salad with pumpkin and a rosemary oil this week. I am gradually getting the hang of the Ballymaloe way of cooking and am hoping that my ability to style food will improve over the next few weeks. It is a lot harder than it seems to present a really outstanding and appealing dish, but I am determined to try my very best! 

Wednesday is the only day that is entirely taken up by demonstrations. This week our morning demonstration was themed around the Dairy. We had Eddie O'Neill visit the school, a very famous Irish dairy artisan food specialist. It was so interesting to have him talk us through the whole process of making cheese as we saw how much love and attention it takes to make a really spectacular cheese. 

The evening before I was lucky enough to have spent an hour in the school's dairy making my very own cheese, so I knew a little bit about the process already by the time Eddie came in.  

You begin by heating milk in a large bain-marie style container.  Once the milk reaches the right temperature and you have added rennet, you find that it has solidified into a sort of jelly. The jelly is the curds and the liquid beneath is the whey.  

We used a giant square cutter to separate the curds from the whey. As you can see, I looked pretty attractive in my hairnet and apron (the hairnet was compulsory in order to make sure the cheese did not get contaminated!) 

Afterwards, a third of the whey gets drained from the container and new water is poured in to make sure as much of the whey is is cleaned off the curds as possible. We then stuffed our plastic containers full of curds. 

We left the moulds for two hours with a weight on top to try and drain as much of the whey out as possible. After 2 hours we turned our cheese out of the moulds and left them overnight. The following afternoon we rubbed salt all over the cheese (it amounted to 2% of the cheese's weight).

We made sure the whole cheese was covered in order for the salt to permeate the cheese evenly. 

We then left our cheese in the school's dairy fridge where they will be turned each day. In about three months, so hopefully just before I leave the course, the cheese should be ready and I will be able to take it home with me! 

 Darina also showed us how to make butter - a great way to use up extra cream from the fridge! She has the ability to make things look a lot easier than they actually are, so I am looking forward to trying out butter making for myself and seeing how easy it really is! Having been here for two weeks already and eating really tasty homemade Irish butter, I think it is one of those things, that once you taste really good homemade butter, you don't want to go back to having just the ordinary stuff. The bonus of making butter is that it freezes well for up to half a year, so you can make it in batches! 

The school shapes their butter into these lovely little round circles and serves them each day at lunch with their homemade bread. 

Later on in the afternoon, we had a wine tutorial given to us by Colm McCan, the Sommerlier for Ballymaloe House. This was a really interesting experience, as I know nothing about wine, so am excited at the prospect that by the end of this course I will actually be able to look at a wine menu and know what wines complement specific foods. 

We tasted five wines that afternoon - three whites and two reds. I have to say, I really fell in love with Natureo Torres Muscat wine. Suprisingly, it only has 0.5 % alcohol.  It looks exactly like white wine and has a delicious fruity flavour!

On the weekend, a group of us drove to Cork. One of my friends is somewhat of a local, so took us to what she claimed was the best ice cream parlour in the city: Scup

I can confirm that it lived up to its hype. I got salted caramel and it was just deeeeeeelicious! Perfectly creamy with just the right amount of salt and caramel. Absolutely worth a visit if you are ever in Cork and are after a little treat!   

Another hotspot that you cannot go to Cork and not visit is the English Market. This place is a real life foodie heaven. There are a lot of organic products for sale that have been grown locally and also a lot of grains and flours that can often be quite hard to track down. Now, it is not a massive market, but what makes it very distinctive is the variety and quality of its produce. 

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