Somewhere along the way something seems to have gone wrong.
|Cookery School Entrance|
However, there appears to a shift in thinking and more and more people are now keen to grow their own fruit and vegetables and reconnect with what they eat. Cheaper cuts of meat are now regularly seen on fine dining restaurant menus and there is a resurgence in the popularity of the foods that fed our ancestors. People want to know where their food comes from and there is increased interest in back-to-basics cooking based around the seasons.
In addition to the intensive 12-week Certificate Course, a number of shorter courses are offered throughout the year covering subjects as diverse as Butter & Cheesemaking, Cake Decoration, Seafood Cookery and Sushi Made Simple amongst many others. Whilst some of the courses are demonstrations, many are hands-on meaning that you get the chance to cook and prepare food for yourself. At all times the emphasis is on the quality of the ingredients used, many of which are grown on Ballymaloe’s 100 acre organic farm or are sourced from local organic suppliers.
The focus of this course was pig butchery and as we entered into the large cookery demonstration area we caught sight of the pig carcass that we would use during the day. It had already been split in half lengthwise but other than that, all of the butchery that took place was carried out in front of us.
Originally from Germany, Philip Dennhardt is a master butcher who has been living in Cork and teaching at Ballymaloe for a number of years. He is a mine of information about all aspects of butchery and encouraged us to ask questions throughout the course. It was fascinating to learn about the tradition of pig-slaughter and to realise that not so long ago many families living in the country would keep their own pigs which they would rear, slaughter and butcher themselves. No piece of the animal that could be used was wasted or thrown away and consequently, people were very creative in the dishes that they would make to feed their families. To illustrate this point Philip then prepared a dish of Brawn (Head Cheese) which is made from the whole head of the pig.
|Bones for the Stock-Pot|
Philip then showed us how to make a Pancetta-style cured ‘bacon’ using the pork-belly from the pig that we had butchered. What amazed me was how relatively simple this was to achieve. In order to make it, you essentially need good quality fatty meat into which you rub a generous amount of salt and spices before hanging in a cool, dry spot. After a couple of days you can wash the cure off the meat and use it as bacon but given the right conditions you can also choose to let it ripen for at least 4 weeks and let the natural enzymes do their work in order to create Pancetta.
During the morning, as Philip butchered the pig, he collected any off-cuts and scraps of meat together and these were minced and used later in the day to make Sausages. Interestingly we learnt that although sausages made from 100% lean meat might sound appealing, a certain amount of pork fat should be included to create sausages that are juicy and succulent to eat. Some of the students then volunteered to fill the minced meat mixture into natural sheep and hog casings using a hand-operated machine to create the sausages. This was great fun and a skill that Philip assured us was easy to acquire with a little practice.
Finally we stuffed the Loin of Pork with a simple herb and breadcrumb stuffing and roasted it in the oven along with its covering of skin which we scored to create the crispiest pork crackling imaginable. This was accompanied by Bramley Apple Sauce, Braised Red Cabbage, Roast Potatoes and Buttered Carrots as the centrepiece of a feast to finish the day. Also included were the cooked sausages and frankfurters we had made during the day along with samples of cured meats. All these were delicious and we left with our bellies full and smiles on our faces after a most enjoyable day.
Self-catering accommodation is available to those attending courses in the school with further details available when booking. Further information on all the courses offered at the school is available from
Ballymaloe Cookery School
|Roast Pork Dinner|