The School of Artisan Food is a deluxe culinary school hidden away in the depths of The Welbeck Estate in North Nottinghamshire. Since the school was founded in 2006 by two dedicated bakers, it has grown to cover a vast range of courses for all abilities, stretching from one day courses to ten month Advanced Diplomas, each under the tutelage of top national and international cooks.
I was absolutely delighted to be given the chance to try a course recently and a truly fabulous day was had by all. Exploring the courses online is really simple, and the range on offer is quite spectacular, each covering something you probably wouldn’t learn yourself at home. Along with a main focus on fermented foods (bread, cheese, beer, charcuterie), the school teaches patisserie, butchery, chocolate making and many more. It currently being the warmer months I opted for the Best of British Summer Preserves and Pickling course, which included jam making, piccalilli, and a mouth-watering elderflower cordial.
T H E W E L B E C K E S T A T E
My morning began with a walk through Creswell Crags up to the Welbeck Estate. If, like me, you’re arriving via public transport or fancy a stroll before your course starts it only takes around 45 minutes to walk from Creswell Train Station, and the route through this ancient site was such a gorgeous experience at this peaceful time of day.
Since learning about the Duke of Portland, The Welbeck Estate has held a fascination for me and I’ve been keen to explore as much as possible. The eccentric Duke inherited the estate in 1854 and quickly began to retreat from public society, indulging instead on the remodelling of his grand estate. His reclusiveness grew so much so that, along with other outlandish building projects, he had an extensive network of underground tunnels dug. Gas lit and painted pink, they were wide enough to fit two horse and carriages and stretched as far as the neighbouring town of Worksop over a mile away. It also is said the Duke had secret manholes installed around the estate from which he would occasionally pop out from to observe his staff.
With this in mind I thoroughly enjoyed taking in the grand walk. Along with the School of Artisan Food, you can also visit The Harley Gallery and The Welbeck Farm Shop, but throughout the estate there are micro-breweries, craftspeople, workshops and food producers working behind the scenes crafting their wares.
On arrival at the school I was shown upstairs to a canteen room, which felt more like a welcoming cottage of a country kitchen. Other guests were already chatting away, browsing the cookbooks, and getting stuck into the fresh coffee, fruit, bread, and preserves on offer, whilst delving into the free tote bags that contained the course information.
Our tutor was the lovely Lindy Wildsmith, author of several travel and culinary guides and the kind of lady you know you can learn a lot from. I had never made any of the creations on our list but her direction was clear, presenting the process in simple steps and sharing her knowledge along the way. It was also an absolute treat to work in such a spacious and well-equipped kitchen, and with the small class size we were able to spread out and make the most of it.
We began by mixing strawberries, sugar and lemons to make jam, mushing gooseberries for jelly, and chopping vegetables for a classic English piccalilli. Most of the ingredients were freshly plucked from the allotments at Welbeck, and the scent of the produce was distinctly more fragrant than that which you usually get at the supermarket – a good reminder to visit my local greengrocer more often!
The piccalilli took up the majority of the morning, and with the carrots, beans, baby courgettes and onions broiled and stewing we were able to finally taste the flavours appearing. Not exactly soft of the eyes but the finished product was sweet, earthy and a little tangy. Quite delicious!
Of course, spending a morning whipping up culinary delights is bound to make one hungry, and knowing it would be delicious I was quite excited to see what was on offer for lunch! In the canteen we were met by a spread of fresh meats and cheeses, fluffy thick crust fresh bread, rustic quiche, creamy potato salad, chantenay carrots, garden peas, piccalilli, fresh coffee, and a huge cake!
B A C K I N T H E K I T C H E N . . .
The second part of the day was spent mixing up jams. The child in me adored this part – the huge cauldron like pan, the deep red bubbling goo, and most excitingly adding the beautiful nasturtium flowers to give a bit of colour and a subtle peppery taste. The gooseberry jelly and strawberry jam needed constant attention while boiling down, so I felt I learnt a little patience here – something I can definitely lack when cooking at home!
As you can probably imagine, the satisfaction of bottling up our mixtures was really pleasing and it was amazing how many recipes we’d jam-packed into the day. Remembering the range of raw fruit, vegetables, sugar and spices we were presented with earlier that morning, now transformed into delicious pickles and preserves to take home, it felt like quite an achievement.
In the final half hour Lindy let us sample some of the produce from her other course in fermentation and pickling, which included kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha tea fizz. Having dabbled in kombucha tea making myself at home it was great to meet someone who not only knew this unusual drink but had also perfected it to a tee and managed to lightly infuse it with cherry, lemon and other fruits.
After loading my jars and bottles into my new tote, thanking Lindy and saying goodbye to my course mates, I was a little sad to leave the peaceful Welbeck Estate. Feeling inspired I vowed to crack on with my own concoctions back at home – so much so that I got myself a second-hand jam pan that very weekend!
Even if you’re not a foodie person, School of Artisan Food courses are a brilliant way to a treat yourself and a great gift idea. The courses run throughout the year and are all available to view on the School of Artisan Food website.
A big thank you must be given to Lindy Wildsmith and my hosts at The Welbeck Estate for this great experience!
For more events in and around The Welbeck Estate, click here.