Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Steele Family ~ Irish Farmhouse Cheese

Milleens Cheese in the Cork English Market
Veronica Steele and her family ferried me around the remote Beara coastline, welcomed me into their home, and gave me a house to myself in Allihies for an utterly magical evening.  They are generous, intelligent, insightful people; and I treasure the experience of being in their company.

Veronica is the often acknowledged mother of Irish Farmhouse Cheese, a revival that started in the 1970's.  Milleens, her first commercially available product, also re-introduced washed-rind cheesemaking to the Isle with highly successful results. Perhaps a majority of Cork County Farmhouse cheeses are now of the washed-rind type.  Following are excerpts and links to details of the Steele's beautiful story.
Early Image of Veronica Making Cheese
Early Image of Veronica Making Cheese
Excerpt: Bord Bia Cheese Guide:  
Milleens is Ireland’s longest established farmhouse cheese. Veronica and Norman Steele began making cheese on their land at Milleens, on the Beara Peninsula, Co. Cork in 1976. The ‘History’ section of the Milleens website contains a wonderful piece on those early days, giving a vivid, first-hand account of how the cheese came into being, from the story of their one horned cow, Brisket, onwards. Veronica is generally regarded as the first Irish farmhouse cheese maker, although she is wont to play down her own importance in the development of Irish washed-rind cheese.

Milleens Creamery
 Milleens Creamery
Guardian UK Irish Farmhouse Cheese Guide:
Twenty-five years ago farmhouse cheesemaking was a lost tradition in Ireland. Medieval monks may have been expert cheesemakers - it is thought they exported their techniques across the Continent - but modern factories were only turning out rubbery cheddar-type cheeses. Despite the lushness of the landscape and the vitality of dairy farming, no one was making high quality, handmade cheeses of the kind you might expect to find anywhere in France. Then along came Norman and Veronica Steel.

Norman is English, but studied at Trinity College, Dublin; he met Veronica when he gave a lecture on Wittgenstein in Cork and 'she was just about the only person in the audience not wearing a nun's habit or a dog collar'. They have been inseparable ever since, living in a ramshackle cottage on the West coast - you have to go outside to get to the sitting room - surrounded by pecking hens. Here, they have raised four children and here, in 1976, they began to make Milleens. (more...)

Veronica and Norman's son Quinlan, an accomplished sea kayaker, is now Milleens' Master Cheesemaker and he is extending Milleens in delightfully delicious ways.
Quinlan Steele
Quinlan Steele
Again quoting Bord Bia: The new form of Milleens, in O’s and Dotes, is testament to the innovation which Quinlan has brought to the business. Quinlan has taken the innovative step of cutting a disc out of the centre of each wheel. The removal of this disc increased the surface of the doughnut shaped cheese. Traditional rounds are also made. The Milleens ‘O’ and the dotes differ slightly in both texture and flavour. 
The ‘O’ is more reminiscent of traditional Milleens, retaining a slight chalkiness at the centre of the paste and that particular earthy signature which is unique to the Milleens rind. By contrast the dotes are softer and more whiffy, with a more active orange rind. They present a winning combination of creaminess and farmyard aromas and are the equal of any Continental washed rind cheese.

A virtual taste of Milleens begins at 1:35 in this Discover Ireland video.