Parma ham is one of my favourite delicacies, so when invited to a ‘cook and dine’ event centred around this wonderful food I didn’t hesitate in letting the organisers know that I would be there!
A tube strike in full swing on the evening didn’t deter many and a warm welcome from the organisers, a glass or two of Prosecco along with nibbles of the wafer thin ham and small canapés soon made us forget about the struggle to reach the venue, the Underground Cookery School on the City Road near Old Street.
As there were quite a few participants we were divided into two groups, swapping over to make the dishes. Mine kicked off with the starter, destined to become fresh tagliatelle with black pepper, truffle oil, Parma ham and parmigiano reggiani. I was perhaps in the minority who had never made pasta from scratch before; but luckily sporting a complimentary Parma Ham apron I happily mixed the flour and egg while under the watchful eye of the chef in charge who added just a splash of olive oil to the mix; then I kneeded it until it reached the required consistency. This was an extremely effective way of dealing with the tensions of the day – all bakers should be very relaxed people! We were each in charge of our own pasta-making machine and following instructions, we started feeding the dough through it, again and again, reducing the number on the dial from 10 right down to 2 in order to reach the required thickness. Mini disasters of the dough falling apart were easily rectified by the chef sprinkling more flour on it. I think I might be more expert the next time! The machine incorporated a tagliatelle cutter, so the neat ribbons of pasta appeared in a trice; we then hung them out to dry on a washing airer, which I found to be quite novel, but very effective.
The groups swapped round and I now found myself faced with a chicken to dissect and bone until I was left with a boneless chicken breast. The very sharp knives provided had to be handled with great care but essential for the job. My rather neat piece of poultry was stuffed with a mixture of cream-cheese, onion and tarragon and then wrapped in Parma ham.
On to dessert, and after the chef had whipped up a mean meringue flavoured with lemon juice and vanilla I was given the honour (with the help of another participant) of spreading it smoothly on the baking sheet. A layer of strawberry-flavoured whipped cream was spread on top and we watched as the chef rolled it into an extremely professional-looking roulade.
We were then all invited to be seated at a long table where everyone chatted away happily. Soon our pasta starter arrived, followed by the chicken breast, succulent under its ham wrap and accompanied by a salad of new potatoes, spring onions and purple sprouting broccoli. The surprise came with the dessert, when we discovered that our lovely roulade had been top with candied Parma ham. In our leaving goody bag were all the recipes and I learnt that to make this, the ham had been placed on a baking sheet, covered with caster sugar and baked in the oven, then broken into shards when cool. I have to say that the delicate flavour of the ham was not quite so prominent here, but nevertheless quite delicious.
We all left, tired but well fed, with a souvenir apron, a booklet of tasty recipes, a folder with detailed information about the production and qualities of Parma ham, and, I’m happy to say, a small pack of superb ‘prosciutto di Parma’.
There are some mouthwatering recipes for Parma Ham on http://www.prosciuttodiparma.com/en_UK/home
Jeannette Nelson, Food writer
So, you work in London, you are used to the crowds, the crush in the Underground, the waiting for buses, you’re quite happy. But from time to time do you yearn to go to the country, to feel the wind on your face, take in the fresh, clean invigorating air, taste some good beer, good food, roaring fires, the smell of wood smoke, a deep sleep in a most relaxing bed, and comfortable welcoming surroundings. And it mustn’t be much trouble to reach.
Well, we found just the place. We spent a couple of nights enjoying the quiet countryside, the stunning sunsets, the green green panorama, the rushing rivers and streams, the waterfalls, and came back home restored, refreshed and relaxed. Ready to face the demands of living and working in a city.
So where did we go? Cheskin House, Newbiggin on Lune, a jewel of a find in the Cumbrian countryside.
And how did we get there? Well on this occasion we drove up the M6 as we had other places to visit. But we could have gone by train from Euston to Oxenholme – a journey of about four hours – and Edwina, the owner of Cheskin House would have picked us up and whisked us back to her place.
Cheskin House, a 270 year old farmhouse, has been restored to its former glory, with white painted windows and internal shutters, airy rooms, antique artefacts to admire, furnishings to die for and much more besides. Our bedroom was warm, luxurious and utterly inviting. The bed, its linen, the carpet all carefully chosen and coordinated. We loved the hanging cupboard with drawers.
And the bathroom, warm, white, candles, a shower, dimmable lighting, and a raised bath in which we threw some complimentary bath salts – they had a wonderful aroma. I forgot to ask Edwina where I could purchase some, they were that good!
And what was on the menu? Our breakfast was outstanding for its deliciousness and choice. Served in the conservatory with its stephanotis plant growing all over one wall, we really enjoyed a very satisfying start to the day.
Evening meals can be served in the dining room or conservatory. Both rooms are beautiful and very relaxing. Beautiful cutlery, glass and lighting made both memorable.
And the food? Edwina is a consummate cook. Her choice of preprandial delicious freshly made cheese sables, with nuts and olives accompanied an excellent dry sherry was admirable
Our meal started with cauliflower soup with truffle oil, she told us the secret of the soup is to create an intense stock.
Our main course was pheasant in a delicious wine sauce, red cabbage and locally grown boiled potatoes.
A beautifully flavoursome and light lemon with almond cake was offered, or plum and blackcurrant fruit compote – we were greedy and had a little of each I’m afraid!
All this followed by Appleby organic brie with local artisan bread – Edwina supports local growers especially.
And the wine to go with such a feast? Well Edwina has a wine studio containing wine from all over the world. I felt dizzy just scanning the labels.
A wine connoisseur, Edwina will match the meal with a suitable wine to get the most pleasure out of her meals. And she hit the nail on the head with her choices, for instance a 1999 Pinot Noir from Barratt, Adelaide (she had bought 150 cases at some time in the recent past) accompanied the soup, delicious with a satisfying aroma and even more pleasing piquancy.
Other delicious delights accompanied the rest of the meal and that of our evening repast the following evening which included a lamb chump chop on a bed of potato, peppery jus, black and green beans. Followed by poached pears in red wine with home made vanilla ice cream, we just couldn’t fit in another mouthful and the wonderful cheeseboard had to be admired but declined, we were so full.
Such attention to details – the decor, food, wine selection and the warm welcome – nothing was too much trouble – were the outstanding elements of our all too short stay at Cheskin House.
Next time for a weekend break we’ll take the train, using Trainline – if you book ahead, there are some good deals.
We’ll take our walking boots, warm hats, gloves and weather jackets and explore the myriad footpath network. A walking stick or two would be a wise item to take, but then Edwina will lend you one if you forget yours!
Can’t wait to visit again whether it’s this winter or the spring, even summer time, anything to be restored and refreshed in a weekend! Aaaah!
Cheskin House : www.cheskinhouse.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Val Reynolds, Editor