Discovering lost skills at the School of Artisan Food

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The School of Artisan Food opened its doors in 2009, the first place ever in the UK dedicated solely to the teaching of traditional breadmaking, cheesemaking and butchery skills.

The School of Artisan Food opened its doors in 2009, the first place ever in the UK dedicated solely to the teaching of traditional breadmaking, cheesemaking and butchery skills.


By Julie Byrne, @JuliByrne, Managing Director of The School of Artisan Food

Hidden away in the ancient Sherwood Forest on The Welbeck Estate, the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Portland, is the rather unique School of Artisan Food. The Estate has a fascinating history, but it is its reinvention through The Welbeck Project, of which the School is a part, which will see it prosper and thrive for future generations.

The School of Artisan Food, a not-for profit, registered charity, was founded by Alison Swan Parente MBE, seen recently on the telly as one of the expert judges on ‘Top of the Shop’, hosted by Tom Kerridge. Alison was a child psychotherapist, working in the USA and UK for over 30 years. In 2008, she launched the Welbeck Bakehouse, but soon realised that there was a lack of skilled artisan bakers in the UK. Talking to cheesemakers and butchers who were also struggling to find skilled people, she decided to establish the School to provide education and training in the ‘lost skills’ of artisan food production and to promote the values of healthy eating, and a sustainable food system. The School opened its doors in 2009, the first place ever dedicated solely to the teaching of traditional breadmaking, cheesemaking and butchery skills. The basis of much of this food is fermentation, so naturally we are interested in microbiology, provenance, taste and health.

Next year will mark the 10th Anniversary of the School and while we have lots to celebrate, we do fully recognise that there is still much to do to ensure that heritage techniques and heirloom recipes are not lost and that ‘small’ food is widely recognised as a delicious, affordable and sustainable alternative to ‘big’ food. We are on a mission to ensure that good, seasonal, locally sourced and cooked from scratch food is for everyone. We are all about inspiring the confidence to grow, produce and make artisanal products that are without additives and preservatives, and which sacrifice uniformity and a long shelf life for taste, transparency about ingredients, integrity in sourcing and the supply chain.

The artisan food movement is growing and we typically run about 4,000 student course days a year, across a wide range of artisan food production programmes.

The flagship of the School is our Advanced Diploma in Artisan Baking, which is accredited by FDQ and is brilliant for anyone who wants a career in baking. The six-month, intensive, full-time programme combines a practical hands-on, minds-on baking, patisserie and viennoiserie course with a ‘creating an artisan business’ module which provides the students with the know-how and skills they will need to launch a successful business.

We are really proud of all of our students and have an increasingly impressive alumni group. A few examples of students who have gone on to set up their own businesses are: David Jowett who started making his own award-winning Rollright cheese in 2015; Ameena Nur who has just set up her own micro-bakery thanks to a small business grant from the Prince’s Trust; Sophie Wood who established Barmies, a handmade slow baked snack made from the barm of skilfully crafted beers; Ian Waterland who runs his own micro-bakery, Knead Good Bread in Leicestershire and combines a love of real bread with his experiences as a mental health nurse by teaching adults with learning difficulties how to bake; Robbie Livingstone who left a career in printing to make his dream of opening his own bakehouse a reality. He is now in the process of setting up his own business; and Sophie Williamson whose one-day cheesemaking course at The School of Artisan Food was the catalyst for her unconventional journey from IT security specialist to professional cheesemaker.

Managing director Julie Byrne (left) and School founder Alison Swan Parente.

Managing director Julie Byrne (left) and School founder Alison Swan Parente.

As the School is not government funded, we actively raise funds for student bursaries and scholarships to support students who otherwise could not afford to attend. Widening participation is a key charitable objective, so we are really grateful to those individuals and organisations who support us. This year we have been able to support our first refugee on the full-time Advanced Diploma thanks to a local charity, The Whittaker Trust. We are now working with the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Refugee Forum to select someone to join our next cohort; this initiative is supported by The Rothschild Foundation.

Over the last 10 years we have established quite a following, with many of our customers returning each year and bakers, butchers and cheesemakers attending for professional development. Of course, this could just be to eat our legendary school dinners!

In order to practise what we preach, we have a kitchen garden so that our cooks and tutors can gather fresh produce for use in their recipes. We also work in partnership with our neighbours, the inspirational Rhubarb Farm, which is a horticultural-based environmental social enterprise providing a service to the unemployed, recovering drug and alcohol misusers, ex-offenders, young people not in education, employment or training, excluded school students, people with learning disabilities, people with mental and physical ill health, ex service personnel, and people with dementia. We are proud to support them and to buy their produce to use in school dinners and courses. We also support other local producers and The Welbeck Farm Shop, and at the moment we are enjoying wild garlic and asparagus from the estate.

Talking of the estate, driving through it to the School each morning, whatever the weather, is an absolute delight and having worked in cities and towns for over 30 years, I have promised myself that I will never take it for granted. We also enjoy some of the most amazing cobalt blue skies.

I love being here when the students arrive in a morning. Our Advanced Diploma students are often singing (really, they are) whilst our short course customers gather, introduce themselves and start to exchange their stories over freshly brewed coffee, or tea and home-made goodies. The buzz of like-minded people coming together really lifts my spirits.

Diploma student Robbie Livingstone left a career in printing to make his dream of opening his own bakehouse a reality.

Diploma student Robbie Livingstone left a career in printing to make his dream of opening his own bakehouse a reality.

The School of Artisan Food is a warm, friendly and welcoming place. My team are a great bunch of individuals who are all united with the desire to make a difference. The tutors are exceptional and leaders in their field, but more importantly, they are great teachers, experts at breaking down processes in to bite sized pieces (if you will pardon my pun) and demystifying the science of fermentation. They effectively demonstrate practical skills, share tips and handy hints and answer any questions.

I have attended a couple of courses now and I’m always amazed at the quality of the products that I have made and taken home to share with my family and friends. Even if you have no previous experience, you are guaranteed to make some delicious food.

Whether you live in the country, a town or a city in the UK, Europe or anywhere else in the world for that matter, the skills that you will learn at the School can be taken home, practised and perfected.

In addition to our extensive range of courses for beginners and enthusiastic amateurs, we offer those with prior knowledge and experience, courses to broaden and deepen their understanding and develop their skills. Farmers and small-holders often attend to learn how to make value added products such as cheese, charcuterie and ice-cream.

Last year, I was really pleased to launch our programme of courses for children. They have been hugely successful and now include courses that younger children can take part in (with a parent or grandparent as a shared experience) or that older children can attend on their own. We also work with the Bassetlaw Voluntary Services to provide out of school food experiences and we offer mini classes at food and drink festivals and RHS Chatsworth.

For me, it’s all about getting the conversation started and connecting young people with good food. I distinctly remember my grandma baking her own bread and cooking from scratch with local, seasonal ingredients from my grandad’s allotment and the local butcher. My mum always cooked from scratch too. I, however, managed to acquire some bad habits as a full-time working mum of two boys (no excuse I know, but there you go) but since becoming part of The School of Artisan Food ‘family’ I have transformed how I think about food. My shopping and cooking habits have also changed and have re-connected with my childhood experiences. I want children to have the opportunity to understand food provenance, be adventurous about what they eat and to be confident and creative around food. Food is a fantastic way to bring families, friends and communities together and blend traditional techniques with exciting innovation.

More at or follow on Twitter at @artisanschool


Courses at the School of Artisan Food

1. FdSc in Artisan Food Production
Nottingham Trent University and The School of Artisan Food have teamed up to offer a Foundation degree in artisan food production and business. The course, which can be studied either two years full time, or three years with a placement, will help to meet increasing demand for skilled producers of high-quality artisan food that is sustainably produced. Students will learn all the skills needed to work in the artisan food industry – developing practical expertise, producing a range of quality food products and understanding what is needed to establish an artisan food business.
The UCAS deadline for applications for October 2019 is Jan 15th 2019.
More info…

2. The Advanced Diploma in Artisan Baking
We are proud to say that our Advanced Diploma in Artisan Baking is accredited by FDQ and equivalent to Foundation Degree Level.

Student Rose McCarthy practises her bread-making skills.

Student Rose McCarthy practises her bread-making skills.

This full-time, intensive six-month course, which now runs twice a year, boasts unrivalled tuition from industry’s most recognised producers and experts. The course’s hands-on approach is supported by the associated science and an understanding of the functionality of ingredients, this
together with the practical skills in bread baking, long fermentation, patisserie and viennoiserie provides a solid basis for a career in artisan baking. The course also covers all that you need to know to establish a food business such as a traditional artisan bakery, a micro bakery, a pop-up, a cooperative and online services.
More info…

3. Pig in a Day
This one-day course provides the opportunity to explore every part of a pig, from nose to tail. As well as learning practical knife skills and butchery techniques, you’ll gain fascinating insight from our expert butchers into the journey of a pig from farm to table.

Learning practical knife skills and techniques on a one day butchery course.

Learning practical knife skills and techniques on a one day butchery course.

Our tutors and meat experts share their extensive knowledge of the butchery industry including rare breeds and basic pig-keeping tips and will show you how to butcher a side of pork, helping you to understand primary cuts and secondary joints and how to cook them.
More info…

4. Home Dairy Skills
Discover how to make soft cheese, yoghurt and butter at home on this one-day practical course. During the day you will explore the fascinating art and science of artisan cheesemaking and learn about different milk types, their seasonality, lactic and rennet set cheese and the role of cultures, their action, their flavouring and how they work with rennet. You will also learn how to transform milk into a range of delicious dairy products in your own kitchen.
More info…

Stiring the cheese on the home dairy skills course.

Stiring the cheese on the home dairy skills course.

5. Introduction to Fermentation and Pickling
This course teaches you how to transform fresh, seasonal produce into delicious and nutritious staples that can be enjoyed all year round and how to use traditional food preservation techniques to fill your store cupboards for the year ahead. The health benefits of fermented products are now well known, so not only will you make delicious products, you will also understand how they can help as part a healthy, balanced diet.
More info…


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