Today was theory day at Ballymaloe, and I was grateful for the much-needed break from the kitchen. The morning started off with a demonstration on how to make butter, cheese, and yogurt – again, all of these things are pretty simple once you know how to do it. Darina spoke about prior generations knowing how to do these things, and she is a big proponent of re-teaching the younger generations. In fact, she even has a book called “Forgotten Skills of Cooking” that goes into it in much greater detail. We also had a guest lecturer named Eddie O’Neill who is a Dairy Artisan Food Specialist, teaching today. He spoke about everything dairy: cow’s milk, goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, temperatures, pH levels, how the enzyme rennet works, how to add rennet to milk, how to separate the curds from the whey to make cheese etc. He even gave us a mini science lesson, which took me back to my days of studying biology when he started drawing the types of bacteria: cocci, bacilli, spirillae and talked about how certain types of bacteria are used to manufacture yogurt. In the end, they showed us how to make the following cheeses: labne (soft Middle Eastern yogurt cheese), srikhand (an Indian cheese dish), cottage cheese, couer a la Crème, mel y mato, paneer (I can make my own Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer now!), semi-hard cheese, gouda cheese, and ricotta. In addition, both Darina and Eddie spoke a little bit about unpasteurized milk, and apparently they are trying to lobby the Irish government to relax its strict regulations on the manufacture of raw milk. Again, this is a topic that I had never really considered in much detail until now, but I can see both sides of the issue. The government wants to protect consumers, and the farmers want to give the consumers more options. I think that if you can trace the exact provenance of your ingredients, then one should have the option to buy either unpasteurized/raw or pasteurized.
The afternoon was spent learning about wine with Colm McCan, the head sommelier at Ballymaloe House, his assistant Samuel, and Peter Corr of Febvre Wine Merchants. I was pretty excited about starting the wine part of the Ballymaloe course, as I’m hoping to make a career change into the world of wine. They talked briefly about wine styles of still white and red wines. Then Colm explained that if one is to properly taste one, then one must know how to properly spit it. I have to say that I was never a huge fan of spitting out my wine for a few reasons: (1) it always seemed like a waste (Hello? I’m spitting out something delicious and expensive.); (2) spitting is generally gross (I hate when I see people spitting in public…it skeeves me out big time); and (3) I never really understood how you can properly assess the finish/length on a wine if you spit it out. Well, before I could properly argue any of these points, Colm took all 60 of the students outside for a ‘spitting practice.’ It was hilarious. We all stood in a big circle, and on the count of 3, we collectively spit. I know that this probably sounds like some hillbilly ritual, but I think Colm did this exercise primarily so that we would get comfortable with spitting. I decided to have an open mind with it and will now try and spit when I’m tasting wines. We then got to try some wines, and they were great. We tried 8 wines today including two differently styled Chadonnays (a Chablis and and an Australian from the McLaren Vale) two Sauvignon Blancs (one from Menetou-Salon in the Loire Valley and a classic New Zealand), and a merlot from Languedoc Rousillon and a California Cabernet Sauvignon from Rutherford in the Napa Valley. Two other interesting wines that we tried were a Torres Natureo from Penedès, Spain, which was a gorgeous white wine that has almost no alcohol thanks to a process called ‘rotating cone column’ that extracts the alcohol…so now I can drink copiously without worry. 😉 We also had a lovely sweet Clos Uroulat Jurançon from southern France. If you had given me some foie gras and some blue cheese, I would have been in absolute heaven. Lastly, we talked about a bit about the additive sulfur dioxide being used in wines as a natural disinfectant and an antioxidant. To demonstrate the point, we were given two different dried apricots – one that had been exposed to sulfur dioxide (and was the normal orangey color) and one that had not been exposed to it (and was a deep purpley color). I actually preferred the fruit with no sulfur, which was surprising to me.
This evening, I finally succumbed to the post-demonstration nap. It was the best nap I remember taking in a long time, so I guess that I really needed it. I also finally got around to my filing and now have an organization scheme in place for all the recipes, technique sheets, and other hand-outs we are given in this course.
Lastly, here are some pictures from the last two days. Enjoy!