Looking for a magical culinary adventure? Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Ireland is truly an amazing experience for anyone who enjoys cooking or wants to learn to become a better cook!
I honestly can't remember when or how I first heard of The Ballymaloe Cookery School (pronounced Ballymaloo), but I've long admired Darina Allen, (founder of Ballymaloe) and her daughter-in-law, Rachel Allen (who helps run the farm-to-table cooking school).
I knew if I ever got the opportunity to travel to Ireland, Ballymaloe would be one place I would definitely want to visit. When our niece decided to have a destination wedding in Ireland this summer, it didn't take me long to check into attending class at Ballymaloe.
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but, if you'd handed me a map of Ireland several months ago, I couldn't have told you where Dublin, Belfast or any of the other major cities were located. And I surely couldn't have pointed to Shanagarry, home of both the Ballymaloe Cookery School and Ballymaloe House, an internationally acclaimed restaurant and guest house.
After checking things out, I discovered that Shanagarry is a tiny village in the southeast of Ireland, just a stone throw from the Irish Sea and about 20 miles east of Cork.
When I looked into the cooking school, I found they offered afternoon, whole-day, week-long, 5-week and 12-week certificate classes, covering a broad range of culinary and horticulture topics. I was thrilled to be able to fit a 5-day, week-long class into our Ireland itinerary.
Scott and I flew into Dublin early on Friday, July 26th. We picked up our rental car and spent two days recovering from jet lag, getting accustomed to driving on the left side of the road (yikes!) and touring the lovely area just north of Dublin.
On Sunday we traveled 3 hours south to County Cork and checked into a lovely hotel (Castlemartyr Resort), originally a castle and later a manor house.
I chose Castlemartyr as it is located just 10 minutes from The Ballymaloe Cookery School. Plus I'd never slept in a castle - or a manor house!
Early Monday morning, excited (and a little nervous) I typed Ballymaloe into my GPS and off we went. I felt like we were headed to the middle of nowhere, and that wasn't far from the truth!
As we were directed down narrow country roads with far off glimpses of the beautiful, azure Irish Sea, we held our breath, hoping there wouldn't be a car coming from the opposite direction. Although the roads are intended for two-way traffic, they're only slightly wider than the width of one car!
As we crept closer and closer (according to my GPS), I thought, "Surely we're in the wrong place!". The tiny, winding road was lined with tall trees and hedgerows of wildflowers and blackberry brambles, forming a frame for the fertile patchwork fields beyond. With nary a car in front or behind, and no signage to direct us, a myriad of questions darted through my mind. An internationally famous cooking school way out here? Was I going to be the only student? Did I have the wrong time? The wrong day?
After driving on this tiny lane for what seemed forever, a driveway to the left appeared with a small, but colorful sign: "Ballymaloe Cookery School". Whew! We turned into the long tree-lined driveway and discovered a parking lot, filled with cars!
It turned out that many of the students had arrived the night before and were staying right on the Ballymaloe grounds in charming little cottages which can be rented while taking classes.
My anxiousness was calmed, and when we entered and were warmly greeted, I quickly felt at home. We were directed to the lovely dining room where a delicious breakfast spread awaited us. Homemade yogurt, labneh, granolas and muesli of all kinds, fruits of every variety in lovely syrups, Irish porridge, thick-sliced, hearty bread, scones, jams, jellies, honeycomb, a large assortment of cheese, sausages and charcuterie. And of course big bowls of sunshiny Irish butter. (I've decided that breakfast at Ballymaloe is as good as it gets!)
Darina was there to welcome us and shared how the majority of the breakfast was sourced right from the Ballymaloe farm and gardens.
I was far from the only student in the class, there were actually around 40 students participating in the week at Ballymaloe. It was fun getting to know them and discovering that they came from all over the globe, some as close as nearby Cork and yet others from England, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Australia, Hawaii, Seattle, New York...
After breakfast, Darina gave us marching orders and kitchen assignments for the week. She explained that each afternoon we would have a cooking demonstration, which was the classroom portion of the class. The following morning would be a hands-on time, where each student would have the opportunity to prepare several of the demonstration recipes.
The demonstrations were wonderful, 10-12 recipes per day, and loaded with so many great tips, given by Darina, Rachel and other staff members. The hands-on kitchen time was invaluable, as Ballymaloe has a ratio of one instructor for every 6 students, so there were plenty of opportunities to have questions answered and to receive individual attention.
We cooked an amazingly broad range of recipes: Irish brown bread, Irish scones, soda breads of all sorts (including a delicious soda bread pizza!), wonderful soups, hearty stews, salads, jam, appetizers and lots of delicious international dishes like African tagines, Moroccan couscous, Swiss roulades, meringues, Middle Eastern dishes, panna cotta and so... much more!
Learning to cook all these great recipes was wonderful, but even better, was gathering with the other students for lunch and sharing a fabulous array of our morning labors. Lunch was a fun time to get acquainted with other students and also to discuss our experiences in the kitchen.
One of the things about Ballymaloe that I really love is that the students are given full access to the farm and gardens. We were invited to come early and help milk the cows, make bread or harvest produce that would be used in the kitchens and classrooms.
I choose to prepare a summer fruit panna cotta for one of my "hands-on" kitchen recipes, and was able to pick the fruit just minutes before cooking from the "soft fruit gardens".
Other students helped pick produce to make soups, salads and side dishes.
All of the students agreed the quality of the ingredients at Ballymaloe is top-notch! Anything we needed was at our fingertips and in whatever quantity was necessary. Fresh herbs, spices, veggies, fruit, meat, poultry... anything our little foodie hearts desired!
The wonderful week at Ballymaloe flew by and it was Friday, almost before I could blink my eyes.
Leaving was bittersweet, so many wonderful memories, a host of new friends from all over the world and a large packet of delicious recipes. I've already bookmarked a bunch of my favorites, and can't wait to share them with you in the weeks ahead! If you want to do some Irish cooking before then, check out our Easy Irish Shortbread Cookies or this wonderful savory Cheddar Herb Irish Soda Bread.
A few of you have asked what Scott did while I was in classes all week. He definitely wasn't twiddling his thumbs or moping in the hotel room. He was either at nearby Ballycotton, wandering on the cliffs (pic above) or here at Ballymaloe, as there's so much more than just the classrooms and kitchens.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, Ballymaloe is also an organic, 100-acre, self sustaining farm and Scott covered just about every square foot of it! He's working on a post coming later this week, Ballymaloe, Behind the Scenes. I think you'll be amazed at the scope of this amazing place called Ballymaloe!
P.S. I'm already trying to figure out how I can go back. Want to join me?