Catching Pigs at The Milestone

When Marc from The Milestone invited me to one of their cookery classes, I jumped at the chance! There are a few exciting courses to choose from; bread making, cake baking, meat, fish and dinner party secrets. For me, it had to be something meat based and being a fan of Fergus Henderson and his Nose to Tail eating I had to go with the Now You've Caught Your Pig course.
So bright and early on a Sunday morning the husband and I arrived at The Milestone. We had time to come round with a coffee whilst we waited for our classmates to join us.  Once the other foodies had arrived we were taken upstairs to the airy dining room which was set up for the class.
Head chef James Wallis runs the classes and he's a great teacher; approachable, knowledgeable and confident as well as being a genuinely nice guy.  He's been at The Milestone for a while now, having previously worked at both the Ivory and Boho in the past.
We started off with a bit of butchery as James had taken a delivery of some sides of pork.  He showed us how to take the ribs off and then we all had a go.  All the ribs were then collected and sent to the kitchen for cooking in a sticky sauce of HP brown sauce, a couple of tomatoes, some peri peri, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika. 

Next up we sliced some belly pork portions.  As these were for our lunch, James told us to cut them to the size that we would like to see on our plate.  Of course, being foodies, portions were BIG!  They were placed in a dish lined with diced onion and apple slices with a pint of cider poured over and sent to the kitchen to be cooked for 1½ to 2 hours at 170 C.
We then prepared the rest of the slab of pork for home cured bacon.  We made a mix using a small box of Maldon sea salt, half the amount of that in sugar, 3 crushed star anise and 2 crushed cloves.  This was rubbed into the meat which was then bagged up along with the cure mix.  James told us to keep the bacon in the fridge for 5 days, then wash the salt mix off and slice it.  The bacon would then keep for 7 days or can be frozen.  
Our bacon finished curing over the weekend and I was impressed with the end result.  I did soak it for a couple of hours rather than just rinse the mix off as on first attempt it was a bit too salty for my liking.  It's really tasty; so much more so than shop bought stuff.  The flavours come through really nicely and as we used good quality meat, it really does make a decent bacon sarnie.

After cleaning down we moved onto stuffed pork loins.  First up James showed us where to find the fillet and how to butcher it.  He then sliced us loin portions for us to stuff with some pig kidney, dates soaked in brandy and tarragon.  We made a hole for the stuffing in the meat and then tied the joint up with string.  This was another one for us to take home and James explained that it would only need cooking for about half an hour at 180 C.  He also suggested that we seal the meat in a frying pan first and that we cook it skin down in the oven.  At the moment, ours is sat in the freezer waiting for a Sunday dinner opportunity.
Unfortunately our own belly pork wasn't cooked in time for lunch (which actually wasn't all that unfortunate at all as it meant we could take it home with us!), but the kitchen had some already on the go for the restaurant so we didn't go hungry!  Nibbles of olives and bread and dripping (YUM!) were served as starters.  The pork was then served with a good piece of crackling, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and veg.  There was also an unusual apple and vanilla sauce which was good with the pork.  Half way through James brought us the sticky ribs to try (just in case we didn't have enough)! All this with a lovely pint of Aspel cider really did the trick and also gave us chance to chat with our foodie classmates.
Lunchtime over, it was back to work for us and we headed back upstairs to start our next lesson.  James had wanted to try making crepinettes which are French sausages made using pig's caul (stomach lining).  So first off we made the sausage mix.  James had raided the kitchen and he was letting us loose in terms of the flavourings used.  I added some fried shallots, some cinnamon, cloves, coriander, dates and raisins to my pork mince.   The husband went for something spicier with peri peri flakes, cayenne pepper and coriander.  We then shaped the mix into sausage shapes and wrapped them up in the caul.  Again these were another that we could take home and I'm planning on trying some for tea tonight (follow me on Twitter @FeastAndGlory to see what I think of them).

The last dish of the day was made using pork medallions.  Again, James had us slice as much of the fillet as we thought we could eat.  You could tell that we'd eaten a decent sized lunch, we only cut about 3 slices, as did the other couple!
We fried off the pork slices and added some chopped up mushrooms and ¼ shallot.  Then some sliced lettuce, tarragon and chives went into the pan.  We served the dish and moved onto making the sauce by flambéing some brandy to de-glaze the pan (which was great fun!) then stirred in some cream and wine and a little salt.  Once reduced by half we squeezed a bit of fresh lemon juice in there and then poured it over the dish.  This was lovely and such a quick and easy dish to make.  I think I'll be trying this at home. 
What an amazing day!  I'd truly enjoyed every minute of it AND we'd come home with a huge bag full of porking goodness.  I really hadn't expected to come away with so much food!  We also took away lots of general cookery tips; from how to slice an onion to how to sharpen a knife.  We also learnt some tricks of the Milestone kitchen such as tips on the use of seasoning and also the use of rapeseed oil rather than olive oil.
At £110 a pop, these classes aren't cheap, but they are excellent value and they're very competitively priced.  They would make fantastic gifts, corporate events or just a great treat for yourself.  And if you're after something a bit cheaper (a taster if you like), then there are the Make & Take courses where you get the chance to make a meal for 2 over a glass of wine and take it home with you for £25.  Check out all the courses available here.  If you do go to any, tweet me @FeastandGlory and let me know what you think.
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The Milestone's cookbook First Catch Your Pig! is available to buy in bookstores and online. 

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