Tag Archives: Colm McCan

Ballymaloe Day 57: Members of the Lost Knives Club

A crack of bone, a shimmy of the knife.

Sometimes I often muse about the amount of knives here at the cookery school. Since the start of the course, many students have become “members of the lost knives club” (as Rachel calls it), but bizarrely they end up finding their way back home – be in two kitchens away or hiding in a sneaky drawer!

Today my knives were earning their keep as I got to work on a rather elaborate Ballymaloe Apple Tart.

This was my first week in Kitchen 1, and with a new partner, new teacher and new surroundings to get used to, I knew that I had to get in early to kickstart the week.

The apple tart required two different pastries – flaky and shortcrust, as well as a lot of chilling, rolling and cooking time – so as I got to work bashing out my flaky, my fingers were crossed hopping that it would turn out well!

After what seemed like years preparing the many layers, I popped my baby into the oven and kept an eye on it with stern looks.

As a beautiful treat, we got to cook with wild salmon today and I was determined to do it justice.

A gorgeous pink colour, I poached the salmon in water seasoned with Maldron Seasalt (a tablespoon to two pints), and let it sit happily in the pot. The secret, Ballymaloe believes, is to have a pot that barely fits the salmon, and to have water barely covering it – a casserole/Le Crueset dish does this well, or those fancy fish kettles.

(My poached salmon with Hollandaise on a bed on minted peas and topped with chervil)

(My apple tart, nice and flaky!)

Delighted with the end results, and with approval from my teacher Debbie, I was happy to get to tuck into the fish at lunchtime.

The rain lashed down and hit the demo windows, and glancing down the list I was glad what I saw what Rachel was going to be demonstrating.

From a hearty Italian stew, a beef and kidney pie and an oxtail casserole – it was hot dish heaven.

(Rachel brandishing an oxtail aka something out of Alien!)

A late evening wine lecture saw our favourite sommelier Colm McCan come in to talk to us about Champagne, orange wine, sweet wines and port and as always he had a fountain of knowledge to share with us.

“Into the bath, into the fridge – chill them!” Colm mused of serving well-chilled bottles of Champagne, and how right he is.


By the way, did you know that Winston Churchill was a massive fan of Pol Roger champagne and supposedly drank a pint of it everyday during World War II?! More recently, Beyoncé requested it for her wedding to Jay-Z (“Not often you get Winston Churchill and Beyoncé in the same sentence” says Colm!)

Along with learning about the facts behind the wines, we also got to taste. It was my first time tasting an orange wine and it was definitely a curious experience.

With umami running through both the smell and taste, as well as a smokey aftertaste and tanins resting on my cheeks, it’s certainly something I’m willing to try again but with food.

On the other hand, I definitely don’t think I’ll ever warm to sweet wines, and as much as I’m ready to appreciate the work that goes into them when two taste like Turkish Delight and Marmalade, I think my tastebuds don’t exactly enjoy it – I am however willing to splash out on an excellent port someday.

Tomorrow I’m doing a random mix of dishes including Asian pakoras with mango relish, curly kale and dessert yoghurt with cardamom cream.

Some random things I learned today:

  • For flavouring vinegars, it’s best to add a few sprigs into a bottle and allow to stand for a week before using.
  • Vinegar comes from the French “vin-aigre”, meaning “sour wine”.
  • Champagne can be: Non-Vintage, Vintage, Prestige Cuvées
  • Three wine varieties in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
  • The colour in wine only comes from the grape skin – so any grape can make a white wine.
  • Most Champagnes are a blend of two or three grape varieties.
  • A Champagne made from only the black/red grapes is called a Blanc de Noirs.
  • A well-chilled bottle of Champagne helps to subdue the pressure in the bottle, as some pressure in the bottle is the same as the pressure in double-decker bus tyres.
  • Orange wines are amber coloured wines that are white wines that are produced like red wines – prolonged contact with grape skin gives colour.
  • Sweet wines or dessert wines are made when the grapes are attacked by what’s known as a “noble rot” – this shrivels the grapes and concentrates the flavour.
  • Port, like Sherry, is a fortified wine. It has a protected status and has to be made in Portugal to be called a “Port” – like Champagne has to be made in Champagne.

Ballymaloe Day 52: a “toolbox of flavours”

The top layer of cheese on the flan was bubbling silently like a golden orb of oozing joy. It was inviting me to eat it.

Today was all about vegetarian food and with a list of rather intriguing dishes in front of her, Darina went through what she planned to showcase for the day.

“If you’re a low-fat milk person – out of the house!” Darina announced during demo, “it’s not good for you”.

According to our headmistress, she believes that low-fat milk is missing a lot of the key nutrients that we need and being at Buttermaloe, I’ve definitely learned that full-fat is the way to go!

I think that a lot of people often think that vegetarian food is limited and bland, but honestly if you saw the dishes that were revealed in front of us, that impression would be shot out the window.


Demonstrating a chickpea chili with tamarind and coriander by chef Skye Gyngell, Darina said that her friend had a “toolbox of flavours”, and is just so good at coming up with some fascinating and beautiful combinations on a plate.

I can safely say, that today’s lunch was definitely one of the best so far, and was actually one of the few that I went up for seconds because of the freshness and lightness of the dishes (the aubergine flan which I was describing at the start of this blog was particularly fabulous).


Easing myself off the dining room chair, I toddled into the afternoon lectures smacking my lips.

The wine lecture as usual was hosted by Colm McCan and he was joined again by Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau in Kilkenny.

Going on a few plane journeys from Kerry “International” Airport (yes, we have an airport!), we did a whirlwind trip to the Rhone Valley, Spain and Italy, and tasted some pretty super wines.


Learning about the Rhone Valley was particularly apt today as it’s Rhone Wine Week, with various events taking place across the country for wine enthusiasts and those who have just embarked on their wine journey – like me!

(Pascal teaching us all about Rhone)

By the way, it’s worth mentioning that before this course, I had pretty minimal experience of wine, but because of Colm’s enthusiasm (as well as his guests), I’ve developed a fondness and love for it.

The same goes for Caroline Hennessy and Kristin Jensen’s love of craft beer – I’ve immense appreciation for them both and am looking forward to learning more.


Zipping through the various wines, I found myself becoming more confident with smells and tastes and was relieved when Colm eased our minds about the impending wine exam.

An exam with 100 questions on wine and sherry, it’s not meant to catch you out but see what you know.

Finishing early I headed back to the house, saying hello to our growing chicks who have been having a lot of fun jumping around and swinging.

Tomorrow I’m on stock duty, which means I’ve to be in the kitchen at 8am and with a busy day of cooking ahead of that, I won’t be surprised if I’m in bed by 10pm.

Au revoir et bonne chance!

Some random things I learned today:

  • If you see Crozes-Hermitage/Hermitage/St-Jospeh and Cornas on a bottle of wine, it means that it’s made from Syrah grapes.
  • The red wine Cote-Rotie is made from syrah too but is blended with a small amount of Viognier grapes.
  • The white wine condrieu is made from 100% Viognier.
  • In the Rhone Valley there are no rows of grape vines because it’s so steep and working machinery there would be too dangerous. The vines are individual and all work is done manually.
  • There are around 350 (or more) different growers in Chateauneuf du Pape – so if you see a low-priced bottle, it’s probably not from the top producer and it might have a varying quality.
  • There are 13 grape varieties that are allowed to be in Chateauneuf de Pape.
  • Penedes in Spain is the heartland of the delicious sparkling wine Cava, whereas Prosecco is from the Veneto region in Italy.
  • Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same grape variety.

Ballymaloe Day 38: “Give sherry a chance!”

Finishing up the day by eating tapas with a smooth sherry was one of the highlights so far, and it was definitely one of those moments where I was so glad to be on this course.

With just two days before our mid-term exams, a group of us were up bright and early at 7am for a crash course with Haulie the gardener where he went through the various herbs and salads that we would inevitably be quizzed on.

Strolling through the gardens and glasshouses as the sun was rising, we were struck by this wonderful illuminating glow that spilled across the sky.

It was enough to brighten the spirits and the nervousness of exams was quickly washed away.

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As per usual, Wednesday was our wine lecture day and we had the lovely Colm McCan back with us to go through French wine regions.

Making stops in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Alsace, we also went on a trip to South Australia and California.

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We got a wonderful taste of probably the best wines I’ve had on this course – I’m particularly fond now of Riesling (pronounced Reeseling).

If you ever spy a Pewsey Vake Dry Riesling from Eden Valley, snatch it up and try it with crab. I got this wonderful aroma of pears and citrusness as I sniffed the glass. It tasted so crisp and lingered in my mouth.

Notably on today’s wine tasting list was a Rochioli Pinot Noir from the Russian River in California which has quite a strong, concentrated fruity smell and just slides across the tongue.

After sipped delicately on our glasses Colm informed us that Ireland gets about five cases of this wine each year and that Ballymaloe House gets two of those cases, so basically we drank about 10% of the year’s allocation – so a special experience to say the least!

These are lessons worth savouring.

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By the time we got to lunch, though pumped full of knowledge, I was quite tired (I’ve been on low energy all week!) and as we scooted into our tapas demo, the upcoming extra sherry tasting with Colm seemed like a lifetime away.

Sherry immediately evokes the image of an old woman in her sitting room sipping on a teeny weeny glass, so I was amused to learn more about this curious drink.

Made in southern Spain, the grapes are picked and fermented like a white wine. Sherry is a fortified wine which means that a neutral high alcohol grape spirit is added after fermentation is complete – this raises the alcohol level.

Then it’s placed in what’s known as a solera system – an arrangement of barrels stacked on their sides – and then the sherry is drawn off the oldest barrel which is then topped up from the next oldest barrel and so on!

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(Me attempting to pour sherry the traditional way – see the video below)

Using a traditional Sherry Venencia from Ballymaloe Cookery School on Vimeo.

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(Me officially failing to do so!)

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(Emer demoing how to cook cuttlefish)

Serving alongside the sherry would be a vast selection of tapas, demoed by Darina and executed by Emer and Tracie.


The dishes mounted in front of our headmistress and soon we had crispy patatas bravas, brandade de morue (salted cod with piquillo pepper), tortilla de patatas, cuttlefish, serrano ham and shrimps on display – but to name a few!

By the way, it’s worth noting that those little sherry glasses that we’re used to seeing in Ireland (especially at Granny’s house), aren’t actually proper sherry glasses because if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for the type of alcohol level it has.

As Colm put it; you serve a pint in a bigger glass because it sits at about the 4.5% mark, the average wine (12%) goes into a wine glass but why does sherry go into a teeny one when it’s just above wine at 15 – 18%. It’s like serving a pint in a teacup.

Serving us in proper glasses, which are like smaller wine glasses, I tasted two sherries for the first time – a delightful Tio Pepe En Rama and an even more intriguing Palo Cortado.

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(Ian and Daniel attempting to fill sherry glasses!)

“Give sherry a chance”, says Colm, “it’s under-priced and undervalued!” Noted!

We’re back in the kitchen tomorrow where myself and Eilish will be rustling up a conglomerate of dishes, including a seafood platter and homemade tomato ketchup.

I mentioned this before but just so you know that there mightn’t be a blogpost going live this weekend for a few reasons – we’ve exams all day Friday and my other half is visiting for the bank holiday weekend! There will though be blogposts for each day, and I’ll be back posting them on site.

Some random things that I learned today:

  • The average Bordeaux wine barrel holds about 225 litres which is about 300 bottles of wine.
  • A white wine can be made from white and red grapes, the colour comes from the skin, which also adds tanins to the wine.
  • Good years for wine? 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2009 and 2010.
  • Guidelines for serving dry sherry – it MUST be served well chilled and freshly opened. It works excellently with food (I adored sherry with tapas but can definitely see it with seafood).
  • Short history of tapas – it’s said that they came to be when people started to cover their glasses of sherry with a bit of bread and ham because it attracted flies!
  • There are about eight types of tapas:
    • Pincho – tapas on cocktails sticks
    • Montaditos – tapas served on a small slice of bread
    • Minis – little white buns that have a filling
    • Tartaletas – tartlets with fillings
    • Tortillas – with shrimps, potatoes or chorizo
    • Platillos – “little plates” with things like a small salad or roasted peppers
    • Cazuelitas – tapas in clay pottery like various seafoods
    • Fritos – salted cod, bunueloas and croquettes!

Ballymaloe Day 21: Back on the ranch!

The bottle is a murky shade of green, it looks like it’s been hiding in the dark for quite a long time and in truth it has.

Back in 1999 and donning my Holy Communion dress, I was giving a rather special present of bottles of champagne with my name on them.

Sitting in a dark section of my home in Kerry and undisturbed for 15 years, this is the last bottle:


Now, I really had no idea if champagne aged well, so while dusting off the bottle I tweeted our Ballymaloe sommelier, Colm McCan to see what he thought.

(Looks like it could be safe to drink after all!)

Still unopened, we’re going to keep it for a special occasion, perhaps the end of the course, perhaps the exam results – who knows? It’s going to make an impression whatever the time!

(My collection of cookbooks back at home)

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(Vintage Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell)

Waving goodbye to my bed and the cats, I made my way back to Ballymaloe with more energy than I had in a few weeks.

Before hitting Shanagarry we made a lunch pit-stop in Midleton and Sage Restaurant.

I’ve been keeping an eye on Sage for a while now, following the release of their 12 Mile video, showcasing their locally-sourced food.


With an interesting and ambitious menu, I forced myself to check out things that I wouldn’t normally order (full review on site soon).

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(Goat’s Cheese gnocchi)

After a relaxing spell at Sage, we made our way through Cork’s winding country roads to the cookery school.

Flipping over Brienne (my lovely cheese) in the dairy, I trudged back to the Coach House with a spring in my step.

Looking forward to getting back in the kitchen and with chef whites freshly laundered, I’m ready to tackle week four.

Even if I make a mess of things, sure haven’t I given it a lash?!

Some of my favourite Irish food people to follow on Twitter:

Ballymaloe Day 10: Wine after wine

I shovelled the food into me like I hadn’t eaten in days, and as bizarre as it sounds – I hadn’t fed myself properly since I came here.

We were out of the kitchens today and started off our theory day with a few quick demonstrations on how to make quick and sweet tray bake squares.

Keeping in theme with our wine lecture that was to take place in the afternoon, we were soon introduced to Eddie O’Neill of Teagasc who was going to teach us all about making cheese!

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“We were a nation of Calvita-eaters!” Darina exclaimed to the chuckling crowd, as Eddie expertly showcased how to make cottage and semi-hard cheese. “Milk is an extraordinary ingredient”.

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By the time lunch came around I was absolutely ravenous and gulped, munched and ate like I was starving.

The weird thing about Ballymaloe is that so far you don’t really eat in the evenings at all, your clock is completely out-of-sync, and funnily enough you kind-of get exhausted at looking food all day. Sometimes all you want to do is sleep!

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One thing I was looking forward to though, was wine.

Last week we had our first introductory lecture on wine with Colm McCan, Ballymaloe’s consulting sommelier, and despite me being a complete wine novice, I found it absolutely fantastic.

Today he was joined by one of Ballymaloe House’s wine team, Oliver, as well as Peter Corr, a wine consultant who introduced Wolf Blass to the Irish market (and who in fact did the same 12-week course I’m currently on).

We tasted a variety of wines and started off with a lovely glass of Prosecco Corte Alta from Vento in Italy. With a refreshing taste, it left touches of pear upon my tongue (much to my delight!)

Fun fact: did you know that Prosecco is made from Prosecco grapes and in actually in a place called Prosecco?

Towards the end of our lecture Colm produced this absolutely stunning Riedel Eve decanter that looked like a smooth basilisk.

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Figuring it cost a fair bob I tried to stay as far away from it as possible – it’s amazing how self-conscious you can get around valuable objects.

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With wine glasses in hand and the sun beaming down on us, we headed outside for a spitting lesson as you do (don’t worry, we used water and the plants were well fed!)

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(Learning about spitting!)

As Peter pointed out, “don’t diss the notion of spitting – it’s essential” while Colm added that if you are at a tasting, you should taste and spittoon them all, and then go back for a glass of your favourite.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about wine, it’s that you need to pace yourself when it comes to tasting. If you ever head to a vineyard, the chances are you’re not going to be tasting just one wine, it could be several. You don’t want to end up falling all over the place.

Finally, we sipped on a Shiraz aka Syrah, courtesy of “The Chocolate Block” from South Africa. Smelling like trees and fresh herbs, the wine tasted so wonderful that I was dying to try another glass which amused me because I wouldn’t normally classify myself as a red wine drinker.

By far, the wine lectures have been my most favourite so far, which is simply because despite being fully loaded with information, there’s a lot of exciting things to learn.

Breaking down the barrier of being terrified of wine to knowing that it’s actually quite fun, must be a challenge for Colm but he and his team do it so well – I love the fact that we’re learning about styles and not brands.

Because we’re not scheduled to have another lecture until week five of the course – this announcement saw a wave of “awwwws” from the students – our kind sommelier plans to give us an extra lecture next week as a bonus!

Since my partner, Patricia, is out tomorrow, I get to choose whatever I like to cook and with a list of about six to choose from, as they say: the world is my oyster.

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Some things I learned today:

  • Goat and sheep cheese is always completely white, unless really infused with herbs.
  • Like wine and chilis, there are varying degrees of cream.
  • It is not illegal to sell raw milk, just isn’t commonly done across Ireland.
  • Flavoured butter is also known as compound butter.
  • Ricotta means “recooked” and is traditionally made by reboiling the whey.
  • If you’re serving cheese, you should place it on a wooden board – it allows the cheese to breath – it’s best to clean your board with salt and water.
  • Some commercially “smoked” cheese you see is actually just covered in liquid smoke. Artisan producers do it the traditional way.
  • Never open a bottle of fizz without chilling it – not only will you use a lot of it when it opens but it could pop into someone’s face!
  • Cabernet Franc is known as Cabernet Sauvignon’s younger brother, but of course is just as good.
  • “Claret”, is wine that comes from Bourdeaux.

Ballymaloe Day 4: “It’s a moment in a glass”

As I stared at the limp body in my lap, with my fingers plucking away at its torso, I realised that everyday some kind-of randomness happens here at Ballymaloe.

I had an early start today and got up at 7am to head off to our optional gardening class. About 14 of us trudged around the gardens with Tim Allen, Darina’s husband, and we learned more about the many plants he had growing on the 100 acre grounds.

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The compost pile at the moment is at various stages with the prime being a year old – it smells rich and earthy.

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Brushing off the soil from our boots and hands, we headed into the demo room where we were to learn all about cheese, wine, fire safety and the principles of food safety.

Sadly, Darina was away for the morning so we had stand-in talk from Pam, one of our teachers.

Pam studied at Ballymaloe, so it was really nice to know that she knew exactly what we were going through – information overload. Swiftly and with skill she made a lovely red currant jelly along with cheese crackers and brought us through some of the Irish farmhouse cheeses.

Then, and much to my excitement, Colm McCan (not the author!), was taking us for a wine lecture.

For those who don’t know, Colm is a top-class Sommelier and has worked at Ballymaloe House for many years – he’s now their consulting expert on wine.

I’m pretty much clueless about wine (barely being able to distinguish red from white – I JOKE), so I really was curious about this lecture.

Colm is so passionate about wine and what’s great about him is that he doesn’t present himself as a wine snob. He speaks about the drink in an everyman manner and made me feel like I was actually able to understand wine someday.

As he says, drinking wine is “a moment in a glass”.


We tasted four wines throughout the demo including one non-alcoholic – and it was a truly fascinating experience.

The Chablis was very crisp and fresh, perfect for seafood and tasted exactly like what the Burren would taste like if it was bottled (trust me) And the Rustenberg Stellenbosch from South Africa had a gorgeous oak and toasty flavour – definitely good with blue cheese. I’ve never used my nostrils so much.

We also tasted a Chauvée Marine, a blend of three grapes which was quite lovely.

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The rest of the afternoon was pretty much heavy-theory focused so I won’t go into details here. BUT, did you know that people can be natural carriers of salmonella? And if you are a natural carrier you can never work in a kitchen – in fact it’s incredibly irresponsible to take on a food position.

You thought I forgot about the duck didn’t you? Back to the present!

Like I said before, things at Ballymaloe can be rather random and this evening Darina came sauntering through our courtyard with dead fresh mallards hanging from her arms.

As you can see, I was handed one and was given the task at plucking the feathers and down from its tummy. It was rather bizarre but with the help of a fellow student, Oscar, we managed to do our best to declutter his tummy! (We called him Sir Barn McCoachy Barn – don’t ask).

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We’re back in the kitchen tomorrow where I’ll be making Brown Bread, Raspberry Jam and Spagetti and Courgettes.

Some things I learned today:

  • Chablis HAS to be made from Chardonnay grapes or it’s not Chablis – it’s French law and you could be fined or arrested if you’re trying to pass off wine using other grapes.
  • If you make stuffing, you shouldn’t store it in tinfoil – the particles drop off and you’ll get a metally type flavour.
  • The bigger the freezer, the more junk you’ll have in it.
  • Excise duty in Ireland on wine is absolutely ridiculous – say for example a bottle that’s priced at €8.00 in shops, minus the packaging and VAT you’re actually left with about 51c worth of wine. There’s twice the excise duty on Champagne.