Posted on April 03, 2017
I had the wonderful opportunity of leading a group of six students from Iowa State University to the School of Artisan Food and the Welbeck Estate for the inaugural spring break study abroad trip ‘Food Production in the Artisan Style’. This program provided a unique opportunity for college students from the plains states of the US (Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois) to experience food production emphasising the simplicity of good food.
Our studies began at The School of Artisan Food on Saturday morning with a breakfast of Welbeck Estate-made breads, jams, jellies and fresh tea and coffee. After introductions, we headed off to the dairy and cheese making facility. Katy Fenwick guided us through the preparation of fresh cheese and butter. These are both relatively simple preparations, but Katy’s enthusiasm and experience led to additional discussion of various types of cheese and production practices. She answered our questions and expanded on our understanding. We were delighted to taste a variety of English cheeses, each serving as an example of a particular region or process. We each picked our favourites – no surprise that there were distinct opinions on the goat cheese! (Not my favourite – but others loved it!).
On Sunday, we had the opportunity to work with the renowned Chris Moorby and Rich Summers for a full experience of ‘Pig in a Day.’ The members of the community that joined us in this course added an additional degree of cultural immersion. Students found common interests through shared stories, background experiences and interest in butchery with the other participants. Familiarity with pork consumption and production in the US was a good beginning point for our experience. Chris and Rich let us each participate in the complete fabrication of a pig. Each section, cut and process was explained thoroughly and students were given ample guidance in each procedure. By the end of the day, our novice butchers had gained confidence and a good understanding of the skills needed for the production of fresh meat cuts and sausage.
Under the guidance of baking tutor Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, we spent Monday and Tuesday learning the principles of fermentation and preparation of sourdough breads. We followed the process from start to finish and each produced loaves of artisan sourdough bread. We learned how simple, good quality ingredients, science and careful technique can be used for numerous varieties of bread production. Since we were mainly from the corn producing states of the US, Emmanuel made a sourdough from corn meal to illustrate the versatility and wide range possibilities of bread products. To top off the two days, course technician and tutor David Carter fired up the wood oven for an evening of homemade pizzas. As always the learning was infused with fun and in this case we also enjoyed the products of the Welbeck Abbey Brewery with our pizza creations. Since returning home, I have started my own sourdough and am looking forward to trying Emmanuel’s tips and tricks to make my own sourdough bread.
Our half-day session working with chocolatier and tutor Shelley Preston topped off our schedule of courses. We had so much fun we didn’t even notice how much we learned about tempering, fat content, cocoa content, and perceived bitterness of various types of chocolate. In a very short time, we produced and walked away with very professional looking filled chocolates, bars and treats for our families and friends.
It is obvious that the School has exceptional teachers for all the courses we experienced. Each tutor not only taught us technical information in their area of expertise, but also used the products and ingredients to tell the stories of area culture and history. Situated on the Welbeck Estate, we were surrounded evidence of food production of the past. I kept expecting Mrs. Patmore and Daisy of Downton Abbey to walk the lanes of the Estate on their way to market. In 2017, the School and Estate are looking toward the future. Delicious, tasty, locally sourced meals served at the School illustrate the emphasis on artisan foods produced with quality and sustainability. Our tours of Stichelton Dairy and the Welbeck Brewery confirmed the commitment to high quality, sensible food production.
In addition to the hands-on experiences in the kitchen, we were hosted and guided through a variety of food related sites on the Estate, and in Worksop, Nottingham, York and London by the very capable, knowledgeable, kind and entertaining Kevin Dukes. Our tours of Smithfield and Borough markets, visits to historic pubs and tea rooms, and international dining complemented the days spent at the School. There aren’t enough words to thank Kevin properly for his time and patience in planning, organizing and hosting our trip. This was certainly a ‘trip of a lifetime’ for my students. The School of Artisan Foods gave us all a new perspective on food production and highlighted issues to think about when preparing, purchasing and making food decisions in the future. I know we will continue these discussions and I look forward to bringing more students to the school in the future.