Today would be a kitchen free day of lectures and demos so it was with some enthusiasm we sat down for the first lecture of the day covering blue cheeses. All the classics were there, Cashel, Bellingham, Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola and its baby sister Dolce Latte. Later these would prove to be the highlights of a very late lunch. But before that we got a recipe for some melting cheese biscuits, made in minutes and using up odd ends of cheese. They may appear on one of my menus when I come home.
We were then joined by a large additional crowd of people for the Dynamic Vegetarian Demo. Mainly this consisted of stews and curries with suitable accompaniments. Having seen the bland and boring fare often provided as "The Vegetarian Option" it was a relief to see some food which would appeal to anyone. If I do ever open an eating establishment it will not have a vegetarian option. To an extent I see these as tokenistic suggesting that our business is meat but if you really insist we will do something (usually Salad, Pasta or Mushroom Stroganoff) for you. There are lots of great dishes which do n ot include meat and I would wish to put at least one in every course so that people could choose them rather than herding one group towards them. On another note whilst every restaurant is expected to offer a "Vegetarian Option" have you ever seen a "Carnivore Option" on the menu of a vegetarian establishment.
A rather good Cheese Croquette recipe looks likely to appear again for me though the All Purpose Chili with TVP is less likely to. "You cant tell it's not mince" said someone, "Obviously you buy own brand pre-cooked tinned mince" thought I. Some of the better recipes were from Madhur Jaffrey and, if the long tradition of non meat eating in India had not thrown up a number of really good recipes several thousand years of sub continental culinary tradition would have been in vain. The lecture took far longer than its allotted time and we headed for lunch at 1:40 not 12:30.
However, in the meantime some epic Onion Bhajis and Pakoras had had an airing and Darina demonstrated the art of the fondue, telling us it was great for a dinner party. Thanks Darina, but I bet I would fail if my exam meal was Crudites with a selection of dips, Cheese Fondue and a Chocolate Fountain. Oh yes, some spinach and mushroom pancakes also made an appearance with several ways of folding them - packages, rolls, triangles - I thought if you folded them in half, paneed them (preferably with Panko crumbs) and deep fried them you could recreate the very retro Findus Crispy Pancake to go with the very 70's Fondue and possibly a take on the Angel Delight/Instant Whip school of desserts.
Anyway lunch eventually arrived 20 minutes before we were due to return to lectures, a delay till 2:30 was announced and I had time for a brief snackette, the highlight of which was some pickled tongue freshly prepared. It may not be everyone's favourite but good quality meat well cooked is brilliant.
The afternoon was due to be a Wine lecture concentrating on Italy, but in Ballymaloe style there was a little bonus. A Chilean wine expert was in the school and gave us a brief introduction in advance of a more detailed look next week. He told us that Chile was famous for two things, the 2010 earthquake and more recently the Miners trapped underground. He hoped to add a third - their wine which had just won a major accolade. Unfortunately he was unable to expound further as he had a train to catch and our delayed lunch had reduced the time for which he was available.
Next and finally we got onto the wines of the Veneto. A white and four reds were up for tasting. These were a Souave (w) and four versions of Valpolicella. The first was a Souave Classico or had been until the winemaker decided to abandon the lottery of using corks for a screw top which protected the wine and had to surrender the 'Classico' label. The Allegrini family were also responsible for the other four wines Two more of these had changed to screw tops and had to give up status with no change to the actual product. The methods of production of the four were different and produced very different wines. My personal favourite was the 'Giovanni Allegrini Recioto Classico 2007' a rich sweet dessert wine weighing in at 14.58% ABV and a hefty €40 for a 50cl bottle - equivalent to €60 for a usual 75cl bottle. If this one appeared on a table near me in the near future I would not say No.
Finally let me tell you about another good Ballymaloe Blog. Written by this week's cooking partner Fiona it gives another insight to the life of a student and can be found at http://www.flavoursofacountrykitchen.com/
Tomorrow Man v Pastry - the final facedown.