Ballymaloe Cookery School and Organic Farm
Last month Brigid and myself took a trip to Ballymaloe Cookery School and Organic Farm in Shanagarry, Co. Cork. Established in 1983 by Darina Allen with her brother Rory O’Connell, the school has since garnered international aclaim as a leading light in the world of culinary education. Darina is a passionate advocate for sustainable farm-to-fork food production and has long been a steadfast ambassador for Irish food both at home and abroad.
The sun shone warmly as we weaved our way past lush green fields of West Waterford. A sparkly strip of Ballycotton Bay made an appearance before we turned inland to approach the world renowned cookery school. The oak-lined drive promised stunning surroundings. We weren’t disappointed. Giddy with anticipation of our meeting with Darina, we skipped through the entrance doors of the school. In the foyer we were warmly greeted and promptly offered tea and cake. Gladly accepted after our long drive, we chatted with our lovely hostess, Florence, about Wexford folk we commonly knew and the virtues of flowering bulbs. No sooner had we wiped the cake crumbs from our lips when we were ushered through the building for a tour.
12 week Certificate Course
Florence explained that the students milling about in the kitchens had enrolled on a 12 week certificate course and, as always, many had come from all corners the globe. Every morning their task was to cook the dishes that featured in the previous afternoon’s demonstration. Typically, each student cooks between two and four dishes during the three hour session which culminates with a tutored tasting. The certificate course begins by tackling the basics and gathers momentum as the weeks go on with plenty of opportunity for one-to-one guidance from teachers.
Afternoon Cookery Demonstrations
Flanking either end of the school are two large dining areas. The colourful, more casual eating area is host to Saturday Pizza where every Saturday from 12.30 to 4pm it opens for business as a pizzeria. Unsurprisingly, should you want to learn how to make your own pizzas there’s a course on hand for that too. At the very heart of the building is a large seated demonstration area where students gather each afternoon to learn new culinary skills and techniques. The afternoon demonstrations are open to the public for a nominal fee which includes all recipes and tastings. Booking is essential.
Finally, we are led back to the more formal dining room with charming views to the gardens. Animated students bustled to and fro delivering their morning’s work from the kitchen. Soon a dazzling array of colourful culinary delights adorned a central table. We were invited to join the students, staff and family members for lunch. So we grabbed a plate, as instructed, and heaped it high before sitting down to tuck in. It goes without saying that everything tasted sublime. Special mention goes to the lamb, artfully carved and served by Darina. Then it was back up to collect dessert- a beautifully fluffy, lemon souflé. And, as if that wasn’t enough, a glass of homemade water kefir was on hand to nudge our digestive tracts into action. All the while a lively buzz of chitchat flowed about the room.
6 week Sustainable Food Programme
During lunch I learned about the many other courses on offer at Ballymaloe. The 6 week Sustainable Food Programme in particular caught my attention. This unique course teaches students how to build a viable future through food systems and culture. Drawing on all the resources of Ballymaloe Cookery School and the 100 acre organic farm, it bridges the knowledge gaps between cooking and farming in ways that can be sustained. It’s a practical hands-on course combined with theory, where students help to grow food and raise animals as well as learning to cook and eat sustainably. Best of all, it encourages graduates to collaborate and create change in the wider world. The course starts in May and you can learn more here.
With lunch over we headed outside to the sun, visiting the fermenting shed and vegetable gardens. Our time to leave drew close so we reluctantly cut our wandering short to allow for a quick lap of the shop. With plenty still left to see and so many tempting courses on offer we resolved to return again very soon.
This blog post was written by Karen Nolan Winkens and originally featured in www.greenjamjar.com