One of the great pleasures of going to West Cork every summer is the cheese. Durrus and Gubbeen are always readily available but Milleens is a bit more elusive. Tt has to be furtled for on the shelves of Super Valu in Bantry and Schull and on the tables that are set up in the regular markets.
But it is one of my favourites especially after it has been left for a while in the back of the fridge and is then found again. If I make it for my sandwiches for lunch there is deep smell of the earth and matured green grass that sticks to my fingers through the morning.
So it with some sadness that I read that Veronica Steele had died. She started making Milleens back in 1978 and in many ways can be regarded as the god-mother to all the great cheese that can now be had in Cork.
This is what Jane Grigson had to say about her in 1984 in an article that appeared in The Observer Food Magazine.
VISIT TO A CHEESEMAKER
Thinking that Ireland was short of cheese, I brought one over from T’yn Grug for the Allens at Ballymaloe. They were politely grateful, but I need not have bothered. Their Sunday evening table was covered with Irish cheeses. Later in Dublin, in the cheese shop of the Powerscourt Townhouse market, the first thing I saw as I walked in was a row of them – cheese from Milleens; soft goats’ cheeses from Wendy and Brian Macdonald in Wicklow and so on.
We went to visit Veronica and Norman Steele on the north side of the Beara Peninsula at Milleens. Rhododendrons and thick greenery at first, pines and glimpses of water. At Dareen gardens, a coast road turns off right down past the cottage where the fish producing O’Connors live. A creek runs in at that point, a path goes down to their boat and in the distance their shellfish rafts rest on the sea; we thought of dinner to come at Kenmare, with their mussels, their oysters and, above all, their sea urchins.
On to Milleens. A flaming car in the middle of the road watched by the sad owner and his parents. No one in sight, village two miles away. Gradually people emerge from nowhere, ambling along, chatting, drawn to the smoke and flames. At last, we get by.
We struggle up the right stony muddied lane and we find two philosophers in Wellington boots, teacher and pupil, both young, turned herdsman and cheesemaker and not regretting it. Straight off the lane, you step up into the orderly, sweet – smelling cheese room, the dairy. Then into the living – room where cheeses were set out on a long table, with a long bench and a view over the sea, over the great inlet like some Galician ria that jags in to the town of Kenmare on this rough shredded fringe of Ireland.
The Steeles began in 1978 with one cow, three gallons of milk a day. Now they have twelve friesians, two kerries and fifty gallons of milk a day. They make two kinds of cheese, Beara which is a cooked curd cheese, a big yellowish cheese, and the flatter Milleens. They export all over the place, to Germany, America and England. With one helper, they have a business they can manage, a life they like – but they could sell ten times as much.
They are keen to spread the idea of Irish cheese. With the chairman, Patrick Berridge, they are amongst the most active members of the Irish Cheese Producers’ Association, which is now thirty strong. Veronica Steele has no craft secrets, but passes everything on that she can.