Veronia Steele, who created Milleens Farmhouse Cheese with her husband, Norman, on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork, has passed away.
In creating Milleens, Ms Steele not only made a farmhouse cheese, she also made a movement of artisan food producers, all of who owe their inspiration to this singular woman. Along with Myrtle Allen, of Ballymaloe House, Ms Steele created the big bang for Irish food. After her, nothing would be the same.
There was something both ancient and shamanistic about Veronica Steele. When the filmmaker David Shaw-Smith made a television programme about Milleens cheese, back in the late 1970's, he chose to shoot the film of Veronica making cheese almost as if she were appearing in a Vermeer painting, the camera low, the light coming into her face from the window, her back bent as she worked – Girl with Milleens Cheese.
She was the kind of woman who would nip upstairs in the farmhouse to play you a fugue she had just finished, as if you had just dropped by the Bach household, and J. S wanted your opinion on his latest piece. She seemed to operate in a different time and yet she seemed, like any great artist, to make time her own.
Milleens is not just a farmhouse cheese, it is a totem to human creativity, and to the stubbornness needed in order to fashion art. There should be a statue celebrating her achievement, and a university chair. And when that chair is founded in University College, Cork, it doesn’t belong in the Department of Dairy Science. It belongs in the Department of Philosophy.
Just over a year ago, Veronica was awarded the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award at the inaugural Irish Cheese Awards, and received a standing ovation from her peers. It couldn’t have gone to anyone else.
Photos: Veronica in Beara, photo by Stefan Syrowatka syro.net ; Veronica with Myrtle Allen at Ballymaloe: Veronica at Electric Picnic with Derry Clarke; Veronica at LisArd Festival, just after her return from Ethiopia