A visit to Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland

We enjoyed a visit to the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Co. Cork on Saturday during a family vacation in Ireland. Ballymaloe is one of the world’s most prestigious cookery schools, and the only one situated on its own 100 acre organic farm. Darina Allen established the school in 1983 with her brother Rory O’Connell.

Think of Darina as the Alice Waters of Ireland. She also is a tireless food activist, professing the farm-to-table philosophy like Alice Waters or Michael Pollan. Darina’s motto: “If one starts off with good, fresh, naturally produced food, in season, one needs to do so little to make it taste good.”

The Ballymaloe Cookery School is surrounded by verdant green fields. In was an unseasonably warm and sunny afternoon, and we visited the gardens (ornamental fruit garden, formal kitchen garden and herb garden), enjoyed a leisurely walk through the farm and “glasshouses,” and drank raw milk from the farm’s own Jersey herd of dairy cows. It was a delightful culinary adventure.

Saturday Pizzas
We also enjoyed a tradition at Ballymaloe called “Saturday Pizzas.” What began as an experimental pop-up restaurant in 2009 has grown to become a fun and casual tradition with locals — and visitors who know about it.

“The idea for Saturday Pizzas really took when I was on a trip to California,” said Philip Dennhardt, who set up and runs “Saturday Pizzas,” according to the cookery school. “I came across a great little cheese and wine bar called Cheeseboard. It had a really relaxed atmosphere and served delicious wood-fired pizza.”

At Ballymaloe, the pizza is cooked in a wood-fired oven. The pizza is made with a sourdough crust and features fresh, local ingredients. Each week two special pizzas are offered, as well as Margharita and Pepperoni. The specials this week were delicious: A meat special of Chorizo, Rocket and Parmesan shavings, and a vegetarian special of potato, mint, goat’s cheese and Gremolata (a chopped herb condiment classically made of lemon zest, garlic and parsley). Others included a Margherita and classic Pepperoni. The menu also included an organic salad.

We also enjoyed the quirky “playing cards” ordering system. When you order a pizza Philip and his staff assign a playing card (for example, Nine of Spades) to your order. You then receive a matching playing card. When your order is up, they call your card – simple! “Our customers range from visitors to the East Cork area to groups of friends to local families,” said Philip, who also teaches pizza-making classes at Ballymaloe.

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