Cheese of the month June 2016: Milleens, Steele family, Beara, West Cork/Ireland

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„We couldn’t buy good food back then“ Norman Steele explains when I ask him why his wife Veronica started making cheese back in the early 1970s, long before anybody was talking about farmhouse cheese. Like many other townfolks turned farmers (Norman had previously studied and lectured philosophy in Dublin) they quickly discovered that one cow has more milk to offer than a young family can consume as such.

Milleens three cheeses

Veronica started with a hard cheese, but found that they both liked a softer, washed rind version much better. It seems like a direct translation of landscape into cheese: The small white farmhouse with its blue door and windows which the couple had bought in 1968 in the search of a better, largely self-sufficient life, is hidden away on the Beara peninsula in the southwest of Ireland. This craggy and very green piece of land is surrounded by the Atlantic ocean, and it is as wild as it is remote.

Norman Steele

Nevertheless with the help of the local pub and some serendipitous encounters, the word spread. It was the time when Myrtle Allen at Ballymaloe House, in the same spirit like Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in California, started campaigning against industrialized supermarket fare and „for real food from Ireland“, and she immediately fell for the individuality and sheer goodness that expressed itself in the aromatic, unctuous cheese Veronica had christened Milleens. Quite soon they milked a second cow and kept the local post office busy with orders arriving by telegram and parcels of cheese being sent out.

Milleens close

Today they buy 250 gallons of milk three times a week from a neighbour, and Quinlan has taken over cheesemaking from his mother. Milleens comes in larger 1kg wheels and small 200 gram „dotes“ („so that people don’t need to kill pieces with clingfilm“ Norman says), and there can be quite a bit of variation according to weather, fodder, and „the mood of the cheesemaker“. But it is always recognizably Milleens, and it always speaks of the rugged beauty of the Beara peninsula and the gentle friendliness of the people who make it. Quinlan shows the same pride and ethos as his parents: „We can’t fix the world, but here at the farm we can do things right.“ Which they obviously do.

Sad postscript: Veronica Steele died on January 4th, 2017.

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