Today was one of the best theory days yet. We were visited by everyone’s favourite sommelier, Colm McCann, who showed us champagne, sparkling wines and cider.
Fun fact : The Champagne region has a network of wine cellars so extensive it was used as part of The French Resistance. Colm recommends the book Wine and War if this is a topic that interests you.
Celeb scandal : Jay Z used to be a big fan of Cristal champagne until a brand spokesperson offended him. When asked about Jay Z’s affinity for the drink he replied ‘We can’t choose our customers.’ Jay was so annoyed he removed all references to the drink from his back catalogue, and at his and Beyonce’s wedding they drank Pol Roger instead.
The reason Colm knows this is because Jay Z once ate at Ballymaloe House. Apparently the rich and famous love the place because they get treated like everyone else – there’s no VIP suite and many locals don’t have a clue who they are. He said that when he arrived Mrs Allen asked how to spell his surname. Jay said “Z.”
We also tasted Wiston, a sparkling rosé wine from the south of England. Who knew??
Finally we had a Skype interview with the owner of Cockagee cider which is made using the keeving method. This means the apples are not peeled or pressed, just left to ferment in their skins, producing a totally natural cider.
In the afternoon we learned about fermented foods. Fermentation is basically the controlled rot of foods, which harnesses the natural bacteria to make it more nutritious. Many of our favourite foods are fermented : yoghurt, cheese, beer, even chocolate. Emer demonstrated sourdough bread starter, sauerkraut, kim-chi, kefir and a few others. People were so fascinated we all ran out after class to get jars for sourdough starters and kombucha. You can see mine above.
If you’re interested in fermentation and haven’t already seen it, you must watch Michael Pollan’s Netflix series, Cooked.
I learned : The Rubix Cube was invented in Hungary.
Most commercial ciders use just 25% apple juice. They are often diluted and coloured with dye derived from South American beetles.
Tsar Alexander II of Russia loved Cristal champagne. At his request the bottle was made clear, so he could make sure it wasn’t poisoned. He also requested a flat bottomed bottle so no one could hide an explosive device under it.
In sparkling wines the smaller the bubble, the better the quality.
Food of the day : Spelt brownies with dark chocolate ganache, pistachios and rose petals. Deep, dark and gooey, just how I like em.
Line of the day : From Colm. “You have to be brave to do simple things.” Myrtle Allen used to receive world renowned chefs at Ballymaloe and would cook them a meal of steak and potatoes because she had so much confidence in her food.