It may seem like no time at all to many of its longterm fans, but Darina Allen’s internationally renowned Ballymaloe Cookery School has been in business since 1983.
The school and her family’s organic farm are at Kinoith, just a couple of miles from Ballymaloe House. Here she famously introduces students first of all to the best of produce from the area - notably fresh fish from nearby Ballycotton, and fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs from their own organic gardens, which are now almost as famous as the school itself. Hens pick around the gardens, providing a constant supply of free range eggs for the school, and their rare breed pigs are a reminder of the way pork used to taste, and much sought after by those in the know.
The school’s 12-week certificate course has been the career springboard for many of the brightest and best kitchen professionals, both here and in other countries, and the school also offers a very wide range - currently over 60 -short courses covering a broad range of interests. While cookery is of course central to the schedule, it’s developed over the years to include life skills of every kind with garden workshops, foraging and re-learning forgotten skills all popular topics alongside both traditional and modern cookery.
Every countrywoman used to be adept in the dairy and today’s curious cooks can find out what it's all about at half day courses on ‘Homemade Butter, Yoghurt And Several Cheeses’, while the adventurous can learn from fourth generation butcher Philip Dennhardt how to Cure a Pig in a Day (and use every morsel), and the romantic gardener can learn about Building a Willow Structure with West Cork willow wizard Norbert Platz. There are courses on cooking for special diets including vegetarian and gluten free, cooking for baby, and every kind of party…courses on breakfasts and brunches and all manner of baking, kids in the kitchen, barbecues, food writing and blogging.
Authentic teaching of world cuisines is a speciality - Sushi Made Simple, perhaps, Discovering Tapas and Sherry, or Middle Eastern - and this is often where the high profile special guests that the school is so famous for come in. Jacob Kenedy of the Soho restaurant Bocca di Lupo , for example, Chad Robertson from the celebrated Tartine Bakery, and popular chef Antony Worrall-Thompson who is a regular guest.
The range offered is fantastic - Ballymaloe Cookery School & Gardens has become nothing short of a national institution and Darina and the team deserve huge credit for everything that they do so well. If you’re visiting the area, it’s usually possible to join the daily afternoon demonstrations (€70, check details online), although booking is essential.
Full details of the courses are available in the annual Course Schedule, available online (www.cookingisfun.ie) or in hard copy on request.
Cookery School Farm Shop
The farm shop stocks seasonal vegetables (mixed salad leaves, new potatoes, beans, spinach, kale), herbs and fruit from their organic farm; organic free-range eggs; fresh and frozen organic pork; Gubbeen cheese and Gubbeen Smokehouse bacon, chorizo and salami; Woodside Farm free-range bacon and sausages.
Also prepared foods - homemade soups, pates, sauces and stews, chicken liver pate, hummus and pesto - and a good range of olive oil and balsamic vinegars, organic wine, and quality ingredients such rice and pasta. Well worth a detour.