Ballymaloe – Week 10: Quit Wineing and Get on With It

This will have to be a quick post as wine is calling. Sadly, not a lovely, chilled pinot grigio, instead a massive pile of heaving wine notes, that I need to learn for my exam on Wednesday. By the end of the week, I will be an expert on lees, riddling and terroir, and will also be able to identify exactly where a wine comes from by taste alone (feel free to test me on that)…

So week 10 has been and gone, and I still feel like I’m a bit of a novice. It seems as though every time you get the hang of it, they just push you more and more, so you never quite feel on top of it. I had a few glitches this week including a spectacularly leaky pithivier (despite having created the most perfect puff pastry known to man, the inside of my gateau pithivier spewed out all over the oven) and some burnt caramelised shallots (it turns out the line between caramelised and burnt is not that blurred). I also struggled with timing as usual. We are all expected to be ready to rumble by 9am and served up by 12.30. I was only done on time one day this week. On top of all that, the teachers are really putting on the pressure. They run around the kitchen shouting things like “You’re all late. Your customers would have walked out or starved to death by now” and “Will you all be ready on time?” to which the correct response is a chorus of “YES”, even if you won’t. Some people have yet to figure that one out. This kind of stress is tough, and people are starting to crack. Time pressure is constantly dangling over you, whether it’s simply trying to complete your dishes by 12.30 or trying to have everything come out warm together. Although the prodding, poking and giving out by teachers can be hard to take, it’s a pretty good mirror of what goes on inside a real kitchen (you must have seen ‘Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares’ by now). I have to admit to a bit of a sadist streak here. There’s something I love about sweating away, being shouted at and feeling slightly on edge, I get a weird thrill out of it, and there’s nothing better at the end of it all than hearing a teacher say “well done, Emma. You pulled it out of the bag today.” I was especially proud as that same teacher witnessed me clocking myself in the eye with a set of measuring spoons only 20 minutes earlier.

Pork belly and spuds

My “aced it” dish. Pork belly with seville orange marmalade, served with potatoes roasted in chicken fat and watercress


Close up roasties

melted leeks

Melted leeks

Pork belly platter

Pork belly platter with watercress

Gateau Pithivier

Slightly blurred picture of my Gateau Pithivier releasing its contents in the oven

We also had another incredible, extra-special guest this week. Nancy Gilchrist is one of only 319 ‘Masters of Wine’ in the world. That means way more people have reached the summit of Everest, than have gone through the gruelling seven year course to become a master sommelier that she did. She was there, not to teach us about wine, but to give us an olive oil and chocolate tasting. It was slightly disconcerting having 6 shot glasses full of oil in front of us, but it was gas craic waving it around getting it all warmed up and having a good sniff. She taught us loads about the nuances of olive oil, production techniques and how many of the things influencing vines also impact on oils (such as terroir, and olive variety). She also told us that the more of a “kick” an olive oil has the higher the polyphenol (healthy stuff) levels and most likely, the higher the quality. That was a major surprise to me as my husband and I spent the summer sampling Croatian oils and dissing all the spicy ones… Oops! As for chocolate tasting, how can you go wrong. She brought along 9 different varieties, from Cadburys buttons, to a raw chocolate from Ecuador  to a bean to bar chocolate made just down the road in Midleton by Shana Wilkie. Apparently, when tasting chocolate, you take just a little bit and allow it to slowly melt on your tongue, keeping an eye on things such as mouth feel (is it grainy or smooth), smokiness (some Puerto Rican beans for example are roasted over fires), meltiness (how quickly does it melt) and flavour (a lot of commerical brands tend to add a heap of vanilla). Or, you can just munch away at it in front of the telly?!

Olive oil

Olive oil tasting

I know it’s said over and over again, but living in Ballymaloe is just like being in a bubble. This can be weird but also has its advantages. It’s quite reassuring not knowing what’s going on in the world, only hanging out with like-minded foodie folk, and being in touch with animals and horticulture on a daily basis. Last week a friend returned from the outside world and said “Did you know that Christmas has already started out there?” Here in our little cocoon, we were oblivious to the Jingle Bells and Ding Dongs of the high street, until Wednesday that is, when Christmas came to Ballymaloe. There were sparkly boxers and reindeer hairbands and holly everywhere, and lots and lots of sweet, Yuletide treats. Any non-mincemeat or pudding lovers, look away now, because this was all about the suet. I’m not really a dessert fan, but felt majorly inspired, especially after putting a massive blob of ‘whiskey cream’ in my coffee, and supping on some mulled wine. It’s kind of nice to finally hear those sleigh bells ringaling…

pudding ice cream

Christmas Pudding Ice Cream


Christmas Pudding

Frosted Tangerines

Frosted Tangerines.

mulled wine

Darina testing the mulled wine

Mince Pies

Mince pies! With pastry topping, meringue topping and crumble topping



Christmas tree

Chocolate christmas tree centrepiece. Can also be made with meringue, white chocolate and pomogranate seeds


Rachel making the final touches to the mince pies


Tangerines and a feast

Some other photos from the week…


Scallops. Freshly caught by divers in West Cork


Beautiful Scallops

Caramel ice cream

Caramel ice cream with rum chocolate sauce, caramel popcorn and salted peanuts

Warm salad

Warm salad of lambs kidneys with caramelised shallots and straw potatoes

Raspberry truffles

There truffles are only worth making for someone you really, really, really like. Each one is individually wrapped around a raspberry


Tapas afternoon



Cherry Buns

Cherry Buns

Pecan caramel

Pecan, caramel whirly buns.


My gorgeous ciabattas

Devilled eggs

Devilled Eggs. Not my favourite. Therefore renamed ‘Devil’s Eggs’

Roast Kessler

Roast Kessler with onion monagascue and pickled carrot salad


Foccacia (I was all about the Italian breads this week)


Palmiers. Made with my very own puff pastry

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