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HUNTER VALLEY BLOG

With more than 150 wineries and cellar doors, 65 restaurants and 180 comfy accommodation places to stay, where do you start?

Follow our insider tips by the people who know best… the locals. We ask talented winemakers, chefs, farmers, brewers and journalists to blog about their favourite places and experiences in this fertile wine region.

6 Cooking Classes to try

Want to improve your cooking skills or maybe you're looking for a gift for a foodie friend? A cooking class in the Hunter Valley is just the thing for anyone who wants to learn a few tricks of the trade and eat some top-notch tucker in the process.

There's an array of fun and interactive classes where you can get some hands-on experience while locals share their recipes and quick fixes with you.

Whether you want to master the basics of paella, learn how to make cheese or butcher a whole lamb, there's a class that covers it.

Here's our cook's tour of culinary classes for the perfect gourmet getaway.

Some say mastering Spain's most famous dish is an art. Owner/chef of The Verandah Restaurant Tim Suffrell loves making the hearty peasant dish and holds monthly classes where he shows you how to make a killer paella.

"The trick to making the perfect paella is a flavoursome sofrito [the tomato sauce base] and being patient," says Tim.

It's a hands-on experience with every participant cooking a component of the dish – Tim's version is a seafood paella with chorizo, onions, green and red capsicums, baby calamari, prawns, fish and he sometimes throws in peas (look away paella purists).

It's a fun paella party with everyone crowding around the huge one-metre-wide cast-iron pan while Tim reveals all about the history of paella, saffron and paprika, as well as varieties of rice.

Then it's time to sit down for the three-course feast you helped make, washed down with some Hunter wines and a refreshing Sangria. The perfect time to use that paella emoji.

The next class is March 17, $95pp.

Majors Lane Cooking School

Are you hooked on the American TV show BBQ Pitmasters? You're not alone.

"I've watched every episode of BBQ Pitmasters," laughs owner/chef Ben Sales. He comes from a long line of butchers who have been smoking meats for 150 years and earlier this year introduced a new smoking class based on American-style BBQ.

It's going gangbusters," he says. "Lots of people who attend the class have watched BBQ Pitmasters and UTube but they only shows snippets. It's not like sitting down and following the entire process from start to finish. That's why people like the class," he says.

Whether it's a pork rib or beef brisket masterclass, during the three-hour demonstration class you'll become familiar with the American cuts, sectioning of cuts, what breed of pigs and cows are available in Australia, best timber to use and learn lots of techniques to ensure you're delivering melt-in-the-mouth pork ribs and beef brisket.

"It's not one size fits all," explains Ben. "Brisket is all about 15 hours cooking time and one temperature whereas ribs take a lot less time and need three temperatures. We teach competition setup based on the guidelines of the US BBQ Association, so if you wanted to enter a competition you've got the basic skill set."

After the class you get to enjoy the slow smoked ribs or brisket with sides, a beer or glass of wine, and receive recipes and a take-home pack. Classes run weekly on Sundays (pork in March, brisket in April). The next class is March 10, $155pp.

Rose Lambert has been making cheese since the 1980s and she shares a thing or two about the centuries old craft in her new quarterly cheesemaking workshops.

Artisan cheesemaker David Bower runs the hands-on element, showing cheese lovers how to make a marinated Fromage Blanc – the French style of fresh cows' cheese – from scratch. There's a 40-minute break in the middle of the 2 ½-hour workshop while milk ripens, allowing the rennet and cultures to do their work. This is when Rose conducts a bonus Cheese Appreciation Class with cheese tasting and wine matching and a Q&A session.

"I tell participants about the history of cheese, different styles of cheese and how they are made, home storage and which wine to serve with which cheese and, of course, they get to sample seven of our regional cheeses," Rose explains.

At the end of the workshop you get to take home the cheese you made and finish the final step yourself.

"The cheese needs to drain for 24 hours before marinating so we give everyone a replica of the final product to take home, along with a recipe for the marinade that could include garlic, chilli etc. After the cheese has drained, they marinate it and have our finished product to compare to."

Classes run quarterly on Sundays. The next class is March 31, $200pp.

Margan Cooking School

Margan Restaurant's head chef Thomas Boyd isn't sheepish about his love of lamb.

"My favourite cut of lamb is slow-cooked shoulder, on the bone," says Thomas. "To enhance the flavour I prepare a mix of rock salt, rosemary and whole cloves of garlic (crushed) and use it to cover the meat. I leave this mix on for an hour and then brush off with a damp tea towel before popping in a low temperature oven. It's delicious."

Thomas runs monthly cooking schools at Margan Restaurant in Broke and the theme for March (and June) is lamb butchery. Owners Lisa and Andrew Margan are passionate about sustainable farming and dining, so it's no surprise they've adopted the nose to tail philosophy to minimise waste.

During the four-hour class you'll watch Thomas break down one of the Suffolk Lambs that are reared on the Estate before mastering the basics yourself, working in pairs to help prepare portions for your own meal. You might be Frenching the racks, preparing the salt mix etc.

The class begins with a tour of the one-acre kitchen garden and orchard, so you can see where the ingredients for the restaurant's seasonally inspired dishes come from.

"This class is all about butchery, there's no cooking involved," says Thomas. "I think the best part about this cooking school is the garden harvest and understand the processes behind planning a menu based around a garden."

You'll also learn the lingo – the secret language of butchers – and how to match the correct cut to the right cooking method.

Following the masterclass you sit down to a three-course lunch in the restaurant with matching Margan wines.

Classes run monthly. The next class is March 10, $155pp.

Estate Tuscany Cooking School

Budding MasterChef contestants might want to sign up for the team-based cooking class at Estate Tuscany before auditioning.

Participants are divided into teams and receive a "mystery box" – just like on MasterChef – and given the task of creating a three-course menu using the ingredients to impress the judge.

It's a fun cooking contest with teams given a set time to create each course with executive chef Daniel Wijekoon on hand to mentor the cooks during the competition.

After battling each other and the clock, it's time to step away from the bench while Daniel judges which is his chef's dish of the day and the overall team winner.

While the competition may be fierce, it's fun too with every contestant starting the three-hour class with a glass of Tyrrell's wine to get things off to a good start and afterwards enjoying eating whatever they made in the class.

Classes run on demand, $135pp. 

Good food and good wine go hand in hand, and this cooking school at Hunter Valley Resort combines both.

It kicks off with a stroll through the vineyard with the cellarmaster followed by wine-tasting and a tutorial about Hunter Valley wine in the cellar door. Then you head to the purpose-built cooking school kitchen to meet up with executive chef Phillip Collis to rattle the pots and pans.

Phillip shares his favourite recipes and you get to cook them from scratch using local organic produce.

You'll create a three-course menu – and there's a choice of menus, so you're bound to find something you want to master with a head chef guiding you through the process step by step. After the class you sit down and enjoy your three courses for lunch or dinner (depending on the time of the class) and you're presented with a certificate of Culinary Excellence.

They also hold pizza-making classes and wine education workshops.

Classes run on demand, $200pp.

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