Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Wheels on the bus

6:30 and the hot shower stung me out of slumber. Around the house a cacophony of alarm clocks sounded. Something was happening or at least about to happen.
A scrimmage for the kettle made me grateful that I had the espresso maker with me and the early injection of Java reached those parts that the shower hadn’t – mostly inside. Muesli and medication stuffed down the eager throat and a quick check that all was safely gathered in and we were off.
Usually when someone leaves the house at the crack of still last night they have a “duty” picking veg, milking cows etc. But this morning was different, we all left by 7:30 in various states of preparedness, have I got wet weather gear? Are these shoes alright?
The reason for the early exodus was that the great day had dawned, the School Trip. Barry Island? Funfair? Museum? No a selection of bakers cheesemakers, markets and ex students businesses. We were under strict orders to be outside the school by 7:45 as the bus would leave at 8am sharp!
Forming into twos we were herded onto the bus in a style that the Cockerels trying to  muster hens in the yard could only aspire to. Back seats had been booked in advance and partners firmly advised that if one went missing the other would become a hostage until such time as the wanderer returned. A special plan had been put in place for one student, executed in the style of Paddington Bear or a World War 2 evacuee.

Rory who was the official leader had hoped, earlier in the week, that he would not turn into a demented tour guide. I hoped that he would not turn into the woman in Italy who thought that we were only interested in celebrity “ Tom Cruise, he live he-ere, Roger Moore, is his house, Jay Lo she stay here last we-eek” and more like Brendan from Coach Trip. Hmmm, perhaps we could vote off a couple at each stop.
The driver took off dead on time and, from his entry into the first corner to the Schumaker-esqe maneuvers on the South Ring, we made excellent time, so much indeed that it was suggested that some passengers were a little nervous, and anyway we had plenty of time.
By 9 we were at Ummera Smoked Products in Timoleague who gave just won a Gold in the True Taste Awards in London for their Smoked Duck. Shown around the areas which we could enter by Anthony Cresswell the owner we saw Salmon smoking, the actual smoker and, through a window for food hygiene reasons, the actual post smoking salmon being trimmed and sliced. Finally a tasting, or in my case several, I could not get enough of the delightful light smoke which seemed to exude a delicate butteriness.

Back on the bus we headed off to Carrigaline and Carrigaline Cheeses. Pat O'Farrell spoke about the three cheeses that they make, all from pasteurised milk a Cheddar style, Garlic and Herb and a home smoked version. Donning attractive J cloths, Shoe Guards and PacaMacks we entered the creamery to see the curds being packed into moulds, brined,the store room and get some inside information on cheese making and marketing.

This was also the point at which coffee appeared along with some of the cakes from yesterday's cooking session. The sweetness of the cake contrasting well with the depth of flavour in the three cheeses. My favourite - the Smoked Carrigaline.
Onwards and ever upwards, hence to Mahon Point Farmers Market. A little bigger than Midleton this is one of the most successful in Ireland and also the point for lunch, provided by a member of the "Ballymaloe" family of businesses or a former student depending on whether you favoured Steak Sandwiches or Curry. My own fully loaded Steak Sandwich was very good and left me wishing for more of the tasty beef.

Next the English Market in Cork. For a food lover this is a MUST, for a non-food lover merely an essential. A huge range of fish, meats, fowl, cheeses, breads and vegetables are on offer along with many many products created from the raw ingredients. You could spend a day (and a fortune) here and be certain that you had left with some of the finest products available. The long suffering and non foodie Janet reckons that my hobby is staring at meat, I reckon it is preparation for informed sourcing of quality ingredients. Anyway to prove her point a few photos, and to disprove it - sometimes the ingredient stares back!!

 From the English Market on to Arbutus Bakery, purveyors of fine breads and a must for me whenever in range of one of their outlets. Now, baking is a nocturnal activity and at 3pm there is not much except machinery some still at over 180 degrees despite having been turned off since 8am. So no photos but a very informative journey around the baker with the processes from flours, and indeed grains, and yeasts being explained and the various elements of hand finishing needed to produce a range from Soda to Brioche and Croissants via various yeast breads and sourdoughs and an invitation to join them a t midnight one day to see how it runs when in action.

The final part of the trip/tour took us to another ex student who has set up an Italian Pizzeria in Midleton. He explained how the business was created including getting planning permission for the wood fired stove, financing and detail like getting Venetian artisans in to do the decor, provenance and quality of ingredients and getting a usp like being genuine, he trained not only at Ballymaloe but also in Venice and employs one Italian chef and one Irish one. Cracking antipasto was followed by freshly made pizza, one of which with rocket and parmesan is basically a yard long!! I was so impressed that when Mrs K pops over next week I have a surprise reservation for dinner ( Keep it secret).

Back to Ballymaloe at 5:30. Not a cooking day but one in which we had learned a lot about production and business. That's what the course does so well, it's not just the cooking. From Darina's lecture on compost on day one to the stage at which we have just arrived our understanding of food has grown exponentially. Whatever we do after Ballymaloe the three months will have given us a real understanding and the ability to contribute to ensuring the future of food remains strong.

Finally no students were left behind, no one was injured and no belongings lost. Best School trip I've ever been on (actually the only one).