Teaming up with Red Letter Days for a Cotswold's food experience and mastering the art of barbecuing with Daylesford Cookery School.
Organic and sustainable, I'm sure that you've heard them time and time again. There are no words that are more poignant at this time, with our oceans calling us to reduce the amount of plastic we chuck in them each year.
Did you know that Ocean Conservancy estimate that in less than 10 years there will be 250 million metric tons in the ocean, and by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish? As a diver, and my happy place being underwater, this prospect is utterly heartbreaking. We humans have made advancements to help our everyday lives, but those now come full circle and are threatening our beloved planet. In my opinion, the current 'trend' for organic and sustainable, shouldn't be a trend at all, but a way of life, to protect us, our future us, the creatures and our planet.
Whilst most are reacting now, there's one place nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds that has been living by these principles for over 40 years; the beautiful rural idyll, Daylesford Estate. Many years back, the Bamford family decided to turn their farmland over to sustainable and organic farming, and since then it has grown into one of the UK's most sustainable organic farms, growing, producing and selling food in harmony with our environment. And with this success, it has grown into one of those places as a lover of great food that should be on your must visit list.
I'm pretty lucky I guess that Daylesford is just 40 minutes from Cirencester. Unfortunately I don't get the chance to visit that often, even when I'm driving past, every time I'm up and down the Fosse Way, heading back to Coventry. So when the lovely people at Red Letter Days asked if I would like to review one of their experiences, and how did I fancy joining a masterclass at Daylesford Cookery School, the answer was always going to be yes!
Red Letter Days Experience with Daylesford Cookery School
I love cooking. I love food. Well it would be silly of me to have a food blog if I didn't, wouldn't it? Although regardless of how many recipe I develop, cookbooks are on the shelf and hours are spent in the kitchen, there is one place that I really do lack confidence; the barbecue. Ok, so we have our annual summer "get everyone over and feed them as much as I can" barbecue that does go down well and I try out new dishes on my unsuspecting guests. But whilst the sides and the cold dishes get plenty of love and attention, I'll hang my head in a little bit of shame that the barbecue selection does revolve around sausages and burgers (homemade ones though) and the usual vegetable kebab.
The selection of masterclasses at Daylesford Cookery School, which is considered one of the UK's best cookery schools, is exceptional and caters to all abilities and tastes, but when selecting the one that I wished to try out, it was the "Smoke Without Fire: Mastering the Barbecue" that stood out to me. It was probably the smoke without fire part, as whenever I get anywhere near a barbecue, there is invariably a lot of both, hence why Ian is left to be the BBQ Master. Not after this masterclass though, this was going to let me take charge of the coals and show him how its done.
To be honest I didn't expect a class on barbecuing to be that full, however as I made my entrance red-faced and flustered having entered up in the obligatory Sunday Cotswold traffic, a kitchen full of eyes turned to welcome me... my fellow students! Grabbing a freshly brewed coffee, I took my seat at the bench and took in my surroundings. Daylesford Cookery School was everything I imagined, and everything I would like in my own kitchen; it's modern yet rustic farmhouse style with painted beams, muted tones and shelves brimming with jars of wholeness goodness. Yes, this was my kind of kitchen.
Our tutors and guides to mastering the barbecue were the talented and enthusiastic James and James, and the first lesson of the day was getting those barbecues going and there was a gas barbecue in sight; charcoal all the way. As James said, and I do tend to agree with him, if you're going to do it, do it properly! After an introduction to the barbecues we were going to be cooking on, tips for lighting, and getting the best out of the coals for different types of cooking, we headed back into the classroom to don our Daylesford blue aprons and get started.
Mastering the barbecue
Over the next three hours, James and James held our attention with their passion for all things barbecue and the best quality, organic ingredients, taking us through the dishes that would make up our barbecue lunchtime feast. We hadn't even started making any of the dishes and I was already hungry to eat them, going onto the barbecue was Korean marinated steak, butterflied leg of lamb with a fennel and rosemary rub, chargrilled baby veggies with goats cheese and even Piadina bread. Yes bread! Forget about fancy brioche burger buns, this Piadina flatbread was even better. Quick and simple to make with basic ingredients, and cooked straight on the barbecue grill; no need to turn the oven on. In fact, everything we cooked was cooked on the barbecue and that included dessert! Oh, dessert... whilst all the food was so good and absolutely divine, it was the dessert that I could have eaten over and over again; pancakes with berries and rosemary sugar.
Now before I move on, when James said that we'd be barbecuing a leg of lamb from scratch for lunch, a look of doubt must have flashed across my face as I really didn't think we'd have enough time to do so. Oven roasting takes long enough, so surely a barbecue isn't as efficient? Well, I'll happy admit that I was wrong, James showed us the that by deboning and butterflying the lamb leg, not only do you get a great surface area for all the fragrant rosemary and fennel rub to sit, it also helps the meat to cook quickly on the barbecue, 30 minutes max. Again, no need to turn the oven on. By now I'm pretty much invested in barbecuing being on of my new favourite techniques.
Back in the kitchen it was back to feast preparation, with side dishes of salsa verde, romesco sauce, bulgar wheat salad with preserved lemons, herbs and almonds and my weakness panzanella salad, made with sourdough bread from the Daylesford bakery. Delicious! Remembering my nut allergy, the James' put me together a bulgar wheat salad without the almonds, and rather than the hazelnut romesco, made me a sweet pepper and mozzarella dish, with peppers from the barbecue. I don't know how to tell you how good the food was, except for it was just stunning and my mouth is watering thinking back to it, as I type!
I guess it does help that the ingredients that Daylesford Cookery School source and use are second to none; fresh, green and vibrant, with a taste that you know hasn't been masked by any nasty chemicals or is washed out from being force grown to meet demand. The ingredients themselves were extraordinary, and I could have merrily picked up a tomato from the basket that was infront of me and eaten it like an apple.
Despite all the amazing food, the beautiful location, the "I want to take this kitchen home with me" feel, the organic ethos and sustainability principles, the best part about my masterclass with Daylesford Cookery School was... Well it's quite simple, I've taken the recipes we made and I've made them again at home, and have loved them even more, going to show that you don't necessarily need gastromy masterclass, fancy equipment and precision techniques, it is often the simplest methods that produce the best results.
Since visiting I've bookmarked the class calendar for Daylesford Cookery School, I will be back! And next time I pass by on my way home to Coventry, I'll be sure to pop in and take a wander through the farmshop and stock my basket. Now, what's for dinner...
Who are Red Letter Days?
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Disclosure: Thank you to Red Letter Days for inviting me to attend one of their food experiences. Thoughts and feelings are my own. Experiences are available to book online for locations across the UK. I was gifted an Introduction to Cookery experience, £95.00, and attended the Smoke without Fire: Barbecue Masterclass at Daylesford Cookery School.