Wednesday, 8 December 2010

School of Artisan Food

A Coulommier style cheese made on 
the course at School of Artisan Food
Sherwood Forest is best known for the exploits of its favourite son, Robin Hood, rather than a centre for food excellence, but these days it's the place to head to learn about artisan food production.  Bread-making, cheese-making, butchery, charcuterie, brewing and more are on the curriculum, from short day-long courses to a degree.  The School of Artisan Food's one year vocational diploma course covers production, food sciences, and business management along with work placements within the artisan food and drink industries.  Incredibly, given the rise of artisan producers in recent years, there is nowhere else like it in the UK.

The base for The School of Artisan Food is the beautiful former fire stables on the extensive Welbeck Estate near Worksop in North Nottinghamshire.  The founding principles of this not-for-profit centre of excellence are based on a belief that communities are forged around food.  Learning where it comes from and how to make it well is vital to our culture.  Artisan is the term used to describe foods produced by non-industrialised methods.  Many have been passed down from one generation to the next but the skills can be, and are being, lost.  A school like this is long overdue.

Being passionate about British cheeses myself, and noticing that the Dairy teachers included long-term employees of the excellent Neal's Yard Dairy, I signed up for a 2-day Introduction to Cheesemaking.  Arriving on a crisp Saturday morning and sweeping up the drive, past a stunning stone Dutch-Gabled property, was a great scene-setter for the lovely converted stable where I was to study.  Lectures were almostly entirely hands-on, with wellies, aprons and hairnets de-rigeur (all provided).  Teachers Val Bines and Julie Cheyney both have years of experience in cheesemaking and delivered a packed 2-day course with enthusiasm and humour.  A dozen students of all ages and varying reasons for being there were completely immersed in the process.  I learnt so much in such a short time - from the importance of milk quality, starters and rennets, making lactic cheese, soft-cheeses and cheddaring through to the moulding of the cheeses.  I even took my own away to tend in a damp garage - which is where my lack of experience showed!  Well, the course was "An Introduction ......" and maturing is another matter for another day.  If it was easy we would all be doing it.

Never mind the Robin Hood trail, I've got my eye on an ice-cream making course to be run by Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices.  Having enjoyed Kitty's sensational 'raspberry and peach leaf' and 'blackcurrant with blackcurrant leaf'  ice-creams, served from her motorised scooter-van, in London, I can't wait to learn what other flavour combinations she has up her sleeve.  Oh my goodness, I've just seen she is going to be outside Monmouth Coffee on Maltby Street this Saturday 9-2 (see my posting the Bermondsey Trail), and she'll have 'Treacle and Vanilla Honeycomb'!