Day 4: Cheese, wine, Health & Safety and chickens

Over our early morning garden walk

Today was pretty awesome. (Please note use of new adjective)


07:45 – Early morning walk around the farm to check out prized Ballymaloe compost and to learn about organic farming processes.

09:00 – Attend morning demonstration and lectures on cheese with Darina Allen

Cheese, cheese, cheese

Yum. Every day there is a cheese trolley at Ballymaloe for lunch. With homemade crackers. (Demonstrated today along with red currant jelly) Usually there are about 5 or 6 cheeses, the majority Irish with one or two European ones. Today we learnt about Irish cheeses like Milleens, Cashel Blue, Ardsallagh and Coolea and Vacherin Mont d’Or, that amazing alpine cheese.

The Irish Farmhouse Cheese industry is booming. It’s been heralded as  beginning somewhat of a food revolution in Ireland as small, local producers and suppliers became more and more popular and found a welcome stage through farmers markets and the slow food movement.

11:00 – Coffee break with 1000 tiny cakes and freshly made scones

(please note. These were devoured before I remembered to take any photos but they were pretty amazing. That jersey cream. That home made raspberry jam. Amazing!)

11.15 Attend lecture and tastings on wine with Colm McCan

So excited about this! We are going to have 18 hours of wine lectures as part of this course. Colm has been voted Irish Sommelier of the year for many years running. He seems fun, very knowledgable and says things like “and da ting is” (with a great Irish accent).

Today we began with Chardonnay and tasted 2 contrasting varieties, one from South Africa and one from Chablis. So interesting. Two examples of the chardonnay grape tasting so different.

We also watched this hilarious video which must have been filmed in the early 90’s, highlighting the differences between wine making in the New World (check out Australian Geoff Merril’s moustache 3:16) and the Old World (with the tres French Dominic Lafon from Meursault, France.) Fascinating.

 13:00 Eat lunch 

(A light 2 courses. That butter wasn’t one of them but check out its yellow-ness!)

14:00 – Learn how to use a fire extinguisher

So. It turns out there are 4 types of fire extinguishers. You pull out the pin and aim it at the fire. That’s all. (Well, all that I can remember although obviously it was an extremely rivetingly half hour)

14:30 – Health and Safety & HACCP

This was actually super interesting. Not the health and safety part so much as Darina (bless her, I think I am falling in love with this Grand Dame a little more every day) and her views on the overzealousness of the Health and Safety industry. Not that it isn’t important, but just that it’s almost gone too far. People are paranoid about bacteria and overwhelmed about the H&S regulations. Bacteria, on the whole, is a good thing. In balance, it keep us healthy and is not something we constantly need to sanitise away with products.

Darina (as we’re experiencing every day) has a fanatical eye for detail and is absolutely clear on the importance of things being done right, cleanly and hygienically but she’s absolutely not a fan of overly prescriptive, regulation for regulations sake.

“I’m a great believer that the regulation must be relative to the size of the risk” – Darina

In fact I get the impression that for Darina, some of these industry recommendations are in the same category as margarine, microwaves, supermarkets and use-by-dates decided on by multinational food corporations.

Darina does not believe in antibacterial this and antibacterial that. As she proudly told us we won’t see plastic gloves for food handling, plastic chopping boards or antibacterial wash and wipe products at Ballymaloe:

“I believe in soap, hot water and elbow grease” – Darina

She told us this hilarious story about a boy at the school who when told this while looking for cleaning products then asked “where do I find the elbow grease?” (She also used the words ‘Irish Mammy’ in this story. Also funny)

So in amidst learning about codes of conduct and the 5 main types of food poisoning we also talked a lot about the rather depressing world of intensive farming.  We talked a lot about chickens. Poor chickens. I don’t think I’ll ever buy supermarket chicken again.  A whole chicken can cost as little as a few Pounds or Euros.  They should not be at this price. The real cost of raising a healthy chicken is €16 – €18. Chickens used to be a once a month treat – now people eat chicken every day because it’s available so cheaply. But the quality is nowhere near what it was. And that’s one of the reasons we have to be so much more vigilant of germs and bacteria, because quite simply, this kind of meat has a lot more bad stuff in it. If we eat it, we bring it into our kitchens.

“There is no such thing as cheap food.” – Darina

In some countries chickens now go from hatched to being wrapped up in plastic and on supermarket shelves in 28 days. (Normally on an organic farm chickens would live for 80 – 100 days) Chickens reared in these conditions are fed antibiotics, hormones, anti-depressants and bone growth stimulants. When you eat intensively farmed chicken, eggs  or pork you have much higher risk of germs and bacteria like salmonella than ever before because of the farming practices they’re reared in. A chicken on anti-depressants. It would be funny if it wasn’t so terrible.

So when you’re buying a more expensive, organic chicken to eat, as well as paying for its long, happy life and superior taste, you’re paying for what’s not in it, as much as the quality of the bird.

The whole Ballymaloe ethos is about good quality products and sustainable farming practices that are beneficial to us as customers, to farmers, the animals and the environment. A farming industry  where farmers earn enough to break even and provide healthy, good quality products that nourish us. Where animals live a happy, healthy life and the environment isn’t detrimentally impacted for the sake of profit.

Being here in this beautiful setting with these people who are fiercely passionate about the right way for things to be done, it’s hard to argue with their philosophy. It’s only sad to think of the huge gap that exists between this way of living and modern lifestyle as we know it for the majority of the western population. A lot to think about.

On a lighter note: taken at lunchtime today. Beautiful blue skies above the formal gardens. And I thought it rained non-stop in Ireland!



2 thoughts on “Day 4: Cheese, wine, Health & Safety and chickens

  1. Kate January 8, 2016 / 8:33 am

    Inspiring stuff Fi, thank you! I’m heading to the Farmers Market this weekend. Loving hearing about your amazing, extraordinary, awesome adventure, and Darina sounds like a lady of infinite wisdom. Look forward to hearing about what’s next on the agenda.


    • fi_says January 11, 2016 / 9:27 pm

      Thanks Katie – will be great to have you over here to see it all in action!


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