The School of Artisan Food: Here’s why you should book a course
June 7, 2024

[Disclosure: I attended the charcuterie course at The School of Artisan Food on a complimentary basis for this blog and my work as a freelance journalist]

“I don’t think charcuterie is a dark art”, our tutor Steve Williams tells us. But I’m not sure I’m convinced, given I’m staring at the face of a pig whose impressive carcass is hanging a few feet from me. Fortunately, we’re not here for some strange ritual, but to learn all things charcuterie from some of the best in the business.

I’ve heard plenty about the School of Artisan Food – a mecca for all things artisan food on the historic Welbeck Estate near Worksop in Nottinghamshire. But little did I know quite what a unique place it is, and how renowned. You only have to take a look around the group I’m about to embark on this two-day adventure with to see that – two cheesemakers from Barbados, a pizza business owner keen to make his own charcuterie, a butcher adding charcuterie to her skills, an aspiring farm shop owner, and someone who quite simply loves food and loves learning about it. And little old me.

Course

Our tutors are Steve, who switched from spreadsheets and a career in business to salami, earning himself the nickname ‘Salami Steve’,  going on to set up his own business Good Game, and teaching the joys of curing your own meats at River Cottage and here. Fellow tutor Sally-Ann Hunt, who ditched a career in the financial sector to join the School of Artisan Food, is another expert, delivering courses in foraging, BBQ, smoking and curing, pie making, sausages, dairy and more.

The aim, Steve explains, is to walk away with knowledge on how to cure every cut from this pig, transforming pork into everything from salami to Nduja, with some sausages in between. His passion as he wields a cleaver is clear to see, and off we go.

Over the ensuing two days, we take those pigs from whole carcasses to myriad cuts of pork, learning how to prepare them, tie them and cure them. We squish fat and meat into sausages, cackle over the school-level jokes as we make our own sausages, inhale the heady smells as they smoke outside in the courtyard, and learn to tie and make chorizo, Nduja, salami and more.

Charcuterie

It doesn’t stop there. At breaks and lunchtimes we tuck into food from the estate, showcasing its broad range of products and some of the businesses that call it home. We wander the grounds, popping into Welbeck’s own distillery to try its rum – dragging ourselves away before we neglect our charcuterie creations for too long – and peep at the network of underground tunnels that make up Welbeck’s rich history.

Lucky little me stays over in one of the estate’s converted cottages, enjoying peacock calls as I drop off to sleep, and soaking up the glorious setting as I take a morning walk down to its farm shop for a browse before day two of the course.

By the time it comes to go home, as we tuck into some of the charcuterie that’s been carefully cured from a previous course, we’re all fizzing with enthusiasm for the world of charcuterie. One of my course-mates has done several courses here before and I can see why he keeps coming back. As I drive home – a boot full of sausages I’m keen to tuck into – I’m mulling over an ice-cream course, or maybe patisserie so I can become a dessert queen. The choices are endless, and I can’t help but feel more people need to know about The School of Artisan Food and its sheer unique role in our artisan food scene here in the UK.

So here is everything you need to know, chapter and verse, so you can go and book yourself a course right now:-

School of artisan food

What is The School of Artisan Food?

The School of Artisan Food describes itself as being “dedicated to inspiring and helping people from all walks of life to learn about healthy, sustainable and delicious food”. In reality, for food lovers it’s much more than that. A little slice of heaven that feels a million miles away from the world.

The setting is stunning and packed with history, but it’s the ethos of the place that shines through. In a world of mass production, industrialised food, and the priority of cost over quality, the idea of bringing together food lovers, producers, and experts to share age-old skills and ensure they live on is food romanticism personified.

What courses can you do at the School of Artisan Food?

In short, pretty much anything relating to artisan food. The course programme at The School of Artisan Food aims to give people the opportunity to get back in touch with real, handmade food.

This means the courses covering everything from artisan bread baking to patisserie, viennoiserie, cheesemaking, butchery, charcuterie, pie making, preserves and pickling. There’s foraging, fermenting, ice-cream making, micro-bakery – even sessions on therapeutic baking. They also cover the business side of things with business start-up courses.

Courses range from short half-day offerings to full four-week courses. If you want to get really serious you can do an advanced diploma, and they do a summer school too. Or just visit, stock up on goods from the farm shop, and book yourself a tour round the distillery or brewery.

Doing a charcuterie course at the School of Artisan Food

“I’m trying to dispel the rumoor that everything they do in Europe in charcuterie is so much better than the UK,” Steve tells us as he hacks into the pigs carcasses first thing on a Monday morning. Fortunately we’re fuelled by coffee and the breakfast of freshly-baked pastries laid on by the school before we start. Because in the ensuing hours we go on to turn carcasses into a meat-lover’s dream of a stack of meat piled high on the bench, ready to be brined, cured and hung for its transformative process.

We learn about the history of curing, which Steve tells us has firm British roots going right back to the Celts. We also learn the intricate science of how to do it right, with specific salt and sugar percentages, carefully calculated for the weight of the meat. We discuss the difference between dry curing and brining, different speeds different meats cure at, and the various bits of tech and gadgetry that can make it easier – though realistically Steve reminds us that curing can be simple. For the brave among us, ‘balcony bacon’ is a real thing and proves you really can cure your own charcuterie at home.

By the end of the day we’ve cured several cuts, adding not only the salt but all the right spices to ensure by the time they’ve sat in them in their vacuum packed packages (note to self – vac packing machines are joyful creations).

Charcuterie course
Charcuterie course
Charcuterie course
Charcuterie course
Charcuterie
Sasuages

The next day starts with sausages, mincing some of the cuts and the epic amount of fat that’s vital for decent sausage-making then piping them into natural casings to create our own sausages. If you haven’t made sausages before, I can wholly recommend it as the most therapeutic, fun pastime.

Some are ready to go – Tuscan-style sausages full of fragrance and aroma. Others head into the smoker to form Kilbasa, a cured and smoked sausage that takes on the flavours of the wood chips it’s smoked in in the courtyard under the watchful eye of Sally-Ann.

Sausages
Sausages
Sausages
Sausages

Smoke d sausage

Our sausage skills are invaluable in moving on to mixing and forming our charcuterie. For those not in the know (which was me at the start of this course) sausage becomes charcuterie when it’s cured, losing a certain percentage of its weight and becoming a different product.

According to Steve and Sally-Ann, it’s actually quite easy – providing you get the salt content right. Which sounds straight forward, but a bad cure can cause all sorts of problems, not to mention a few tears if you spent quite some time not only trying to get it right, but then wait for it to cure, only to find out something went wrong and you’ve got a spoiled bit of meat.

Charcuterie
Charcuterie
Charcuterie

Over our two days of learning, it certainly doesn’t seem like a beginner’s task to me. Not only do you need to get your salt right, but the right amount of fat is important, as is the spicing for flavour. And then it’s not just about hanging it in any old place, but you need the humidity level to be right too, to get the best charcuterie.

Safe to say, by the end of our time, I’m confident that charcuterie may not be a ‘dark art’ – but it is an art. Steve and Sally-Ann’s passion and perfectionism is clear to see, and their enthusiasm in passing on their artisan skills impressive. After we’ve lovingly formed, tied and hung all of our charcuterie in the special swanky cabinets to cure, we tuck into some of their creations to round off the day. The quality is clear to see – and taste.

These past two days man we now not only know how to cook every cut from the carcasses we started with, but how to cure them all, Steve tells us. A reminder that there’s no better way to understand what you eat than to learn how to make it. It brings a newfound respect of produce, of animals, and of artisan food. Exactly what the School of Artisan Food sets out to do.

Course

 

 

Course

Where do you stay at the School of Artisan Food?

The School of Artisan Food is in North Nottinghamshire, three miles to the south of Worksop, making it relatively easy to get to, but simultaneously feels a bit remote (in a good way). There are plenty of places to stay nearby, and they helpfully publish a full list of hotels, guest houses and B&Bs nearby that you can book into.

They do have some accommodation on site in the former estate buildings, which are used in their summer schools. Lucky old me got to stay in one of them, and enjoyed a night in the cutest little house complete with fully-equipped kitchen and everything I needed to rest up between busy days learning all things charcuterie.

School of Artisan Food accommodation
School of Artisan Food accommodation
School of Artisan Food accommodation
School of Artisan Food accommodation

Do you get food during courses at the School of Artisan Food?

Erm, yes. And it’s pretty darn good. Freshly-basked pastries and cakes in the morning. Big spreads at lunchtime, from piping hot freshly made lasagnes with artisan bread, to cold cuts and salads made with produce from the estate and its farm shop. Think buffet, but better.  And cakes. Lovely cakes. In short, all you need to fuel you for a day of learning.

Food Artisan School of Food
Food
Food
Food

What else can you do at the Welbeck Estate?

The School of Artisan Food isn’t the only thing to keep you occupied on the Welbeck Estate, with plenty of other things to check out.

The estate actually has a 400-year history and has played a huge role in various historic milestones. The abbey itself started life as a monastery in 1153 before becoming the country seat to a succession of Dukes of Portland. For a short time, the estate formed a base for an army hospital during the First World War and became an army training college from the 1950s through to 2005.

In 1607 it was acquired by Sir Charles Cavendish, the youngest son of the famed Bess of Hardwick and since then has been handed down through the generations with family members, including the 3rd Duke of Portland, who was twice Prime Minister, and Sir Edward Harley, whose extensive collection was the foundation for The British Library.

Welbeck Estate
Welbeck Estate
Welbeck Estate
Welbeck Estate

Nowadays, the estate has become a magnet for food businesses and is home to a bakery, brewery, distillery, farm shop, and some epic kitchen gardens – apparently the biggest walled garden in the country. All this sits among the estate’s 15,000 acres of parkland that surrounds Welbeck Abbey, making it the perfect place to wander beautiful grounds and take in all the food and drink you can.

The farm shop alone is worth a visit – selling meat reared on the estate and butchered there too, freshly-baked bread, cakes, and locally-sourced produce. A kid’s sweet shop experience to any lover of artisan food. In the pretty courtyard you’ll find a coffee van some mornings, and some beautiful sculptures along with the Harley Gallery, that shows regular exhibitions.

There’s the chance to check out other businesses on the estate. Make sure you call into Dropworks Distillery to see their rum-making in action, and have a tot at their bar. Somewhere I could happily spend a lot longer in, I have to confess.

Dropworks
Dropworks
Dropworks

Then there’s the mark left by the 5th Duke of Portland – famously known as the ‘burrowing duke.’ He was responsible for commissioning an extraordinary range of buildings as well as a network of tunnels below the estate. You can wander the estate and see some evidence of these tunnels, even going through one or two. Don’t forget to look up at their amazing decoration.

Welbeck Estate
Welbeck Estate
Welbeck Estate
Welbeck Estate

To find out more about the School of Artisan Food and how to book its courses, visit the website here.

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