I love the School of Artisan Food in North Nottinghamshire. It is an absolute gem. It is set on the wonderful Welbeck Abbey Estate, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Portland in the heart of the ancient Dukeries. The Estate remains private but is now also home to a number of thriving artisan food businesses (of which more in a later blog) and the superb School. On this occasion I attended for the Great Food Club. Below is a version of the article, which can be found at greatfoodclub.co.uk
“Fermentation is, let’s face it, a staging post on the road to rot” so said our tutor for the day, food writer and cook Lindy Wildsmith, as we began a day of Pickling and Fermenting at the fabulous School of Artisan Food.
If you don’t know the School, it is situated on the beautiful Welbeck Estate at the heart of Sherwood Forest and is surely is one of the jewels in Nottinghamshire’s culinary crown. Established in 2006, the School is housed in the former Victorian fire stables. This award-winning School has excellent purpose-built training facilities, kitchens and wood-burning bread ovens for the teaching of a whole host of wonderful and fascinating courses, from breadmaking and patisserie, cheese-making , brewing and butchery, to ice-cream making, chocolates and charcuterie. More recently the School has expanded its range of short courses, and now covers a wide variety of food related interests including photography, the history of food and food entrepreneurship. The School is “not-for-profit” and has an outstanding reputation, its location is serene with nothing much but birdsong to break the peace, and the architecture and countryside are inspiring.
I have attended courses here in previous years, including bread-making, using herbs, starting a food business, a day of feasting with Ivan Day the food historian and the fantastic “Food for Thought” weekend of foodie related lectures, so I was delighted when the School extended an invitation to the Great Food Club to join their first Pickling and Fermentation workshop.
The “Picklers” met before the course started with coffee and home-made bread and marmalade from School’s own bakery before we gathered in the School’s fully equipped and spacious training kitchen. There were around 12 of us, each with our own work station. Such a nice group of people too.
As Lindy got us to introduce ourselves it was clear that there was no shared reason why people joined this course, our group included organic farmers, pub owners, restaurant and farm shop owners, charity workers, prospective food start-ups and people who just love food and cooking, and the odd one who had been brought the course as a gift for Christmas (got a feeling the present-giver who came along treated herself at the same time!) Every course I have attended here brings a diverse group of people – some looking to turn their food passion into a business (or already have) and others that just want to try their hand at something a bit different – like making ice-cream. The environment is relaxing and welcoming and even total food novices can be sure they will be helped along in whatever course they have chosen to join. (Did I mention how much I love this place?).
Lindy was a friendly and chilled host, guiding us through and showing the processes as well as talking to us about the history of persevering, pickling and fermenting. The day moved along quickly with the cabbage for the Kimchi chopped and salted before the introductions were over and then a swift run through (working in pairs – a great way to meet other people and network with like-minded foodies if that’s your thing) prepping for our German Sauerkraut, Japanese Salt-Fermented (Shio-Fuke) Cucumber, Golden Mango Pickle and, the highlight for me, the Korean Kimchi (although it is fair to say that my pickling partner – who know you are you Mrs Garden Centre – bottled it on the amount of stunningly hot chilli paste she was prepared to add).
We had prepped most of our veg and fruit before lunch at 1, so covered a lot of ground in the 3 hours. The course is fast-paced but not rushed and (assuming some basic knife skills) is pretty much at a standard that home cooks of any level would feel comfortable with.
I do need to mention the catering at the School, which is in another league. All the food served at the School is made fresh on site (and literally in front of us in this case) using as much of their locally grown Welbeck produce as possible, including bread from their own bakery and cheese from the Dairy (and depending on your course, beer from the brewery). Brings a whole new meaning to “school dinners”.
After lunch we ruminated on the possible health benefits of gently fermented food and the positive effect on digestion, and what the medical thinking now was on if and why fermented foods seems to have beneficial effects and we speculated on the reason why pickling and fermenting was having something a renaissance in Britain. Lindy (who herself has the very healthy attitude to food of “eat everything” – a sentiment with which I wholly concur) is convinced the fashion for “clean eating” in the US is responsible for fermented food and drink becoming increasingly popular here, I wonder, though, how much the interest in and knowledge of foods from Eastern Europe – where pickled and fermented foods remain a large part of many of cuisines – has contributed to our revisiting this very traditional way of using up a glut and keeping food over winter.
We didn’t use vinegar for any of our preserving on this course, and we had many discussions about the pros, cons and differences and the nature of modern vinegars (largely industrially produced) versus the vinegars of the past, kept fed and nurtured rather like (for the baker’s amongst you) a sour dough starter, so were all delighted when Alison (Parente, who set up the school) presented us all with a “slice” of Vinegar Mother to take home with us. Yep, a first for me. I don’t think I have ever really thought about where vinegar comes from – unless of course presented with a cheap bottle of wine. But there you go, a vinegar mother is a vinegar starter, a clump of bacteria, which must be fed with wine (a mother after my own heart) to reproduce and ferment. In 3 months or so we shall have our own gently fermented vinegar to use for pickling or cooking and a Vinegar Mother who needs a couple of glasses of wine a week to keep her going (I can relate).
As ever, the School of Artisan Food delivered a fabulous course, friendly, funny, incredibly interesting and informative, with quality teaching and, as always, well organised (even despite the wobble when we all thought we had added pre-measured sugar to our pickles instead of salt). I absolutely can’t rate this place enough
As an addendum – I thought the Korean Kimchi was going to be my highlight pickle (even though my pickling partner had slightly wimped out on the amount of chilli) even when it exploded 3 days later, it was still a contender. But no, my absolutely favourite (and possibly the simplest to make, was the pickled lemons, some of which found their way into my Easter Lamb dish and the others into vodka for home-made Limoncello. Perfect.
I attended this workshop on behalf of the Great Food Club, as a guest of the School of Artisan Food. Views are my own.