Tours de force

THIS is the time of year when our Autumn Certificate class heads off on its school tour. We are almost halfway through the 12-week course, with a lively group made up of seven nationalities.

Much of the food the students cook with comes directly from the school farm and gardens, or from local producers. Some smoke fish, or make wonderful farmhouse cheese; others rear free-range chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The students have huge respect and admiration for these food heroes. They also appreciate the passion and sheer hard work it takes to provide these quality ingredients.

While I was helping Philip Dennhardt in our How to Cure a Pig in a Day course, Rory O’Connell headed off at the crack of dawn with a bus of sleepy students.

By the time they drove over the Vee Gap to Clogheen in Co Tipperary, they were wide awake and looking forward to the first stop at cheesemakers Anne and Dick Keating’s farm. Baylough is a hard territorial-type cheese, handmade from cow’s milk. Up to last year the Keatings had their own herd, but they now buy milk from the top-class Friesian herd of Jim O’Leary of Ballybacon in Ardfinnan. This means they have more time to devote to cheese-making.

Recently they have developed Baylough Select, a more mature cheddar-type cheese wrapped in muslin. Dick gave me a month- old piece to taste recently and I was blown away by the flavour. I’m not surprised Anne can scarcely keep up with demand.

The students arrived in time to see the curd being cut. Anne and Dick explained the cheese-making process, from the pasture to the mature cheese. This is a particularly busy time for the Keatings who also supply cheese for the Christmas-hamper market.

Despite that, in his spare time Dick makes home-made cider and fruit wines, which he demonstrated to a class at the school recently.

Next stop was a restaurant that’s causing a stir in foodie circles — the Old Convent Gourmet Hideaway in Clogheen town.

Christine and Dermot Gannon ran Gannon’s restaurant in Cahir, Co Tipperary for three years but were longing to move to the country. In autumn 2005 they bought and began to renovate the old convent in Clogheen, which has seven lovely guest bedrooms. The Gannons have quickly built up an enviable reputation for their tasting menu of eight courses of modern Irish food, largely locally sourced. Christine explained to the students how she and her husband got started in the business and showed them around the Old Convent taking in the Chapel Dining-room, the Mother Superior’s room and the Goddess powder room.

Students were treated to a delicious Taste of Tipperary lunch: Baylough cheddar and celeriac velouté shot with truffle butter; Ballybrado organic pork salad with Crozier blue cheese and clove-poached pear with toasted pecan nuts; Tipperary organic ice- cream grasshopper martini and The Old Convent organic chocolate fondue. This was an invaluable insight into the restaurant business.

The Old Convent Gourmet Hideaway is open for dinner from Thursday to Sunday.

Back to Cork then for a tour of the English Market. This is always an endless source of fascination for our students as they go from stall to stall marvelling at the range of delicacies on offer — from traditional tripe and drisheen to newcomers who offer ethnic ingredients, as well as the terrific butchers, poultry suppliers and fish stalls.

It’s a treasure on our doorstep. For an insight into the history and lore, I recommend Serving a City, the story of the market written by Diarmuid and Donal Ó Drisceóil, which was published last year.

Last stop was at Frank Hederman’s award-winning Smokehouse at Belvelly near Cobh, where students learned about the craft of smoking fish. Frank smokes delicious wild and organic salmon, mackerel, mussels and eel in the traditional way. Everyone enjoyed a taste of all these delicious goodies.

Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School we are immensely grateful to the farmers and other producers whose hard work enables our students to cook with top-quality ingredients.

* Baylough Cheese, Clogheen, Co Tipperary, phone 052-65275, (see Hot Tips for stockists).

* The Old Convent Gourmet Hideaway, Clogheen, Co Tipperary, phone 052-65565, website www.theoldconvent.ie, or email info@theoldconvent.ie.

* The English Market, Princes Street and Grand Parade, Cork.

* Frank Hederman, Belvelly Smokehouse, Belvelly, Cobh, Co Cork, phone 021-4811089 or shipping@frankhederman.com

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