This weekend I was invited to the Artisan Food School at Welbeck in North Nottinghamshire to talk to their students about the inspirational Irish artisan food scene, the snows before Christmas meant that my first visit had to be postponed but that is an even a lovelier time of the year to visit this spectacular estate and stunningly beautiful English country house Welbeck Abbey.
Originally it was the principal Abbey of the Premonstratensian order in England. Now it is home to the descendants of the Dukes of Portland and is still a private home in the midst of a 16,000 acre estate. The house has been added to at regular intervals since the 12th century and is a mixture of architectural styles with pepper pot turrets and fantasy towers and huge gargoyles balanced on the rooftop.
Of course there are beautiful and extensive gardens, tranquil lakes, lawn tennis courts and a cricket pitch as well as a subterranean ball room and miles of tunnels. The wealth of the Earls and Dukes of Portland originally came from coal and they spent it well building an entire village to service the estate. The eccentric 5th Duke of Portland by all accounts, a kindly man known as the â€˜workmanâ€™s friendâ€™ created employment far and wide in the district by having an extraordinary series of tunnels constructed in the 19th century by the expert tunnellers from the coal mines.
I was fascinated to wander in and out of the â€˜down stairsâ€™ area which would have hummed with the voices of hundreds of staff, there was an underground train to take the food from the kitchen to the great house with a detour to deliver to the servants hall.
Present owner, Will Parente, a direct descendant of the 7th Duke of Portland remembers his grandfather telling him that as a mischievous little boy he and his friends loved to switch the tracks so the food for the servants hall ended up in the dining room of the Abbey and vice versa.
Â The Parente family continue to create and innovate and have converted various buildings on the estate to new uses. There are a range of craft workshops, a farm shop, cafÃ©, garden centre, museum, galleries and the School of Artisan Food, a brilliant concept created to pass on the traditional artisan skills of Cheese-making, Butchery, Baking and Brewing to future generations. The school is in the former Fire Stables and in its first year has 17 full time students. They were fascinated to hear about the growing and innovative artisan food sector in Ireland who are helping to further enhance the image of Irish food both at home and abroad. So find out more about their courses at the Artisan Food School www.schoolofartisanfood.org
This weekend why not seek out some Irish artisan food and cook up a feast.
Macroom Wholemeal Soda Bread
Makes 1 loaf
225g (8oz) Macroom wholemeal flour
225g (8oz) white flour
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (bread soda or baking soda), sieved
375â€“450ml (13â€“16fl oz) buttermilk (depending on the consistency of buttermilk)
Preheat the oven to 230ÂºC/450ÂºF/gas mark 8.
Mix the flours in a large, wide bowl, then add the salt and bicarbonate of soda. Lift the flour up with your fingers to distribute the ingredients evenly.
Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk. With your fingers stiff and outstretched like a claw, stir in a circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl in ever-increasing concentric circles. When you reach the outside of the bowl seconds later the dough is made.
Sprinkle a little flour on the worktop. Turn the dough out onto the flour. (Fill the bowl with cold water now so it will be easy to wash later.) Wash and dry your hands to make it easier to handle the dough.
Sprinkle a little flour on your hands. Then gently tidy the ball of dough, tucking the edges underneath with the inner edge of your hands. Pat the dough gently with your fingers to flatten it slightly into a round loaf about 4cm (11â„2in) thick. Slide one hand underneath and with your other hand on top transfer the dough to a baking tray.
Cut a deep cross into the bread (this is called â€˜blessing the breadâ€™) and then prick it in the centre of each of the four sections to â€˜let the fairies outâ€™. Thereâ€™s also a practical reason for doing this â€“ the last part of the loaf to bake fully is the centre, so cutting the cross opens out the centre during cooking, allowing the heat to penetrate more evenly.
Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200Â°C/400Â°F/gas mark 6 and cook for a further 15 minutes. Turn the bread upside down and cook for a further
5â€“10 minutes, until cooked (the bottom should sound hollow when tapped). Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Ardsallagh Goat Cheese Salad with Wild Rocket, Figs and Pomegranates
We often use the lovely St Tola Goats cheese in this recipe as well.
1 fresh pomegranate
4 small fresh Ardsallagh cheese or a similar fresh goat cheese
8-12 fresh figs or plump dried figs (try to find the Turkish ones on a raffia string)
Enough wild rocket leaves for eight helpings and perhaps a few leaves of radicchio
32 fresh walnut halves
4 fl ozs (110ml) extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 -1 teaspoon honey
salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the pomegranate in half around the equator; break each side open, flick out the glistening jewel-like seeds into a bowl, avoiding the bitter yellowy pith.Â Alternatively, if you are in a hurry, put the cut side down on the palm of your hand over a bowl and bash the skin side firmly with the back of a wooden spoon â€“ this works really well but it tends to be a bit messy, so be sure to protect your clothes with an apron as pomegranate juice really stains.
Next make the dressing â€“ just whisk the oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey together in a bowl.Â Â Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Toast the walnut halves in a dry pan over a medium heat until they smell sweet and nutty.Â
Just before serving, toss the rocket leaves and radicchio in a deep bowl with a little dressing.Â Divide between eight large white plates.Â Cut each cheese into 3 pieces.Â
Cut the figs into quarters from the top, keeping each one still attached at the base.Â Press gently to open out.Â Divide the cheese between the plates, three pieces on each; place a fig in the centre.Â Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and freshly roasted walnuts. Drizzle with a little extra dressing and serve immediately with crusty bread.
Note: plump dried figs are best cut into slices and scattered over the salad.
Belvelly Smoked Mackerel and Tomato Tart
Remember that some smoked mackerel has never seen the inside of a smoke house, but has been dipped in dye to simulate the smoked effect. So search out best quality fish and really ripe and firm tomatoes. For a special treat, serve with a drizzle of hollandaise sauce.
225g (8oz) Shortcrust Pastry
3 ripe, firm tomatoes
Salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar
2 eggs and 1 egg yolk
300ml (10fl oz) cream
1 small onion, very finely chopped and sweated in 25g (1oz) butter
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 dessertspoon chopped tarragon
2 large whole smoked mackerel or 4 fillets, skinned, bones removed and pulled into 2cm (3/4 inch) pieces
1 x 10 inch deep tart tin
First make the pastry, line the flan ring and bake blind in the usual way. Remove from the oven place the tin on a wire rack.
Next make the tart filling. Peel the tomatoes, by dropping into boiling water for 10 seconds. Run under a cold tap for a moment and then peel. Quarter the tomatoes, remove the seeds and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) dice. Season with a pinch of salt, pepper and sugar.
Beat the eggs and cream. Add the cooked onions, chopped herbs and seasoning. Mix well. Fold in the tomato and mackerel. Taste and correct seasoning.
Pour the filling into the tart shell and place in a preheated moderate oven 180Â°C/350Â°F/Gas Mark 4 for 20-30 minutes or until the tart is set.
Remove from the oven on a wire rack for a few minutes. Remove the tin, place on a large flat plate and serve.
This tart tastes best when served warm with a green salad. Try using Kitty Colchesterâ€™s organic rapeseed oil to make a dressing.
Glenilen Yoghurt and Cardamon Cream
This is delicious served with Strawberry and Rhubarb Compote.
425ml (15 fl ozs) Glenilen natural yoghurt
230ml (8 fl ozs) milk
200ml (7 fl ozs) cream
175g (6 ozs) castor sugar (could be reduced to 5oz)
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds, freshly ground – youâ€™ll need about 8-10 green cardamom pods depending on size
3 rounded teaspoons powdered gelatine
Sweet geranium or mint leaves
Ring mould or 8-10 individual bowls.
Remove the seeds from 8-10 green cardamom pods, crush in a pestle and mortar.
Put the milk, sugar and cream into a stainless steel saucepan with the ground cardamom, stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is warm to the touch.Â Remove from the heat and leave to infuse while you dissolve the gelatine.
Put 3 tablespoons of cold water into a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatine over the water, allow to â€˜spongeâ€™ for a few minutes.Â Put the bowl into a saucepan of simmering water until the gelatine has melted and is completely clear.Â Add a little of the cardamom infused milk mixture, stir well and then mix this into the rest.Â Whisk the yoghurt lightly until smooth and creamy, stir into the cardamom mixture.
Pour into a wide serving dish or a lightly oiled ring mould, or individual bowls or glasses and allow to set for several hours, preferably overnight.
Corleggy Summer Cheese School 2011 – spend a day with Silke Cropp in Co Cavan learning the art of cheesemaking and take home your very own kilogram of cowâ€™s milk cheese. Email email@example.com
Macroom Wholemeal Bread â€“ Donal Creedan mills our favourite oatmeal and gorgeous wholemeal flour in the last stone grinding mill in Ireland. The quiet gentle self effacing man has a cult following both at home and abroad â€“ Iâ€™ve come across Macroom Oatmeal as far away as Zimmermans in Ann Arbor in Michigan. Itâ€™s my favourite Irish foodie present when I travel. 026 41800 firstname.lastname@example.org
The excellent Bord Bia website has tons of information and contact details of Irish artisan food producers www.bordbia.ie