Milleens Cheese is a flat, round, Muenster-style, smear-ripened cheese.
It is made from the raw milk of Friesian cows curdled with calves rennet.
The cheese is allowed to ripen for 4 to 10 weeks after it is made at 13 to 15 C (55 to 60 F). During this time, the rind is washed about three times, using water from a spring on a nearby mountain.
The wrinkled rind of the cheese is peach to orange-coloured. The bacteria on the rind is Brevibacterium linens. The cheese is not inoculated with B. linens; it finds its own way there via the air:
“[Milleens Cheese] ripens from the outside inward, and the crust is formed by the interaction of the cheese with airborne bacteria — in this case, two strains of bacteria. It turned out that the springwater killed off one of these strains, leaving the other to grow in the crust and, as it does, turn it orange.” Irving, Clive. Passages. Condé Nast Traveler. Condé Nast Publications: New York, NY March 2004.
The cheese ends up with a semi-firm to soft, pale-yellow interior with tiny holes in it, with a spicy, unique aftertaste that is more defined than similar cheeses such as Reblochon. The more the cheese ripens, the more liquidy it gets in the centre, and the more it develops a very smelly, barnyard aroma.
It is sold in two sizes:
- 1.5 kg (three pound) rounds, 22 cm (9 inches) wide
- 200 g (7 oz.) rounds, 10 cm (4 inches) wide, which Milleens calls “dotes”
Serve Milleens Cheese at room temperature.
In cooking, the cheese is slow to brown and burn.
Milleens Cheese has a fat content of 45%.
It is low in lactose.
Though Milleens Cheese is sold wrapped in cellophane, store it wrapped in a wrapper that can breathe.
Ripening is slowed by storing it at 4 C (39 F).
Milleens was Ireland’s first post-war farmhouse cheesemaker.
It is made by Norman Steele (originally from England) and his wife Veronica (a Dubliner), and their family, in Eyries, near Castletownbere, in County Cork, Ireland.
Norman used to teach philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin; Veronica was a student of his. They have several children, one of whom, Jennifer (née Steele) Irvine lives in Wentworth, Surrey, England, running a catering service there delivering meals to homes. Two other daughters, Monica and Kate, helped with the cheesemaking at various times. The business is now being run by their son, Quinlan, who stepped in when he was 26 in 2000.
They left Dublin in the 1970s, purchasing a farm named “Milleens” in County Cork. Norman and Veronica lived “rough” on the farm at first, having no electricity for their first six years in the farmhouse.
But, they did have a one-horned cow named Brisket who produced 3 gallons (13 ½ litres) of milk a day, more than they needed, so around 1976 Veronica purchased “The Cheeses and Wines of England and France, with Notes on Irish Whiskey” by John Ehle and decided to experiment with making cheeses. For the first two years, she tried making cheddars before switching her focus to a washed-rind cheese. At one point, their dog Prince stole four of their cheddars and buried them in the garden. Prince did not indicate whether this was a sign of approval or disapproval.
In any event, Veronica switched to making a washed-rind cheese, and sold the first cheese in 1978.
The first restaurant to put it on the menu was the Blue Bull in Sneem, County Kerry (12 miles / 20 km north of Castletownbere.) A woman named Annie Goulding from the Blue Bull was buying vegetables from the Steele’s farm. Veronica tucked some of the new soft washed-rind cheese she was making into Annie’s purchase as well, and Annie put it out for customers. That night, Declan Ryan of the Arbutus Lodge Hotel in Cork happened to sample the cheese board and asked about Veronica’s cheese. The next night, Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe House was at Sneem and had the cheese as well, and from there the fame started to grow by word of mouth.
The English food writer Jane Grigson was a fan of Milleens Cheese. She said the cheese “was always different but always recognisably Milleens.”
Just as the Steeles were picking up speed, their whole dairy herd was wiped out by BSE. After that, in 1981, they decided to buy their milk in from their neighbours, as demand for cheese had been starting to outstrip their capacity to produce milk, anyway. They had to get a licence from the Department of Agriculture to buy milk to make cheese with.
In 1986, Milleens produced its first winter batch of cheese.
In 1997, Milleens Cheese won the Supreme Champion Award at the British Cheese Awards in Cardiff.
In 2001, Milleens Cheese won the Gold Medal at the World Cheese Awards.
In 2004, Milleens received a small grant of 1,588 Euros from the Irish Food Board through its Marketing Improvement Assistance Programme  Irish Food Board. Annual Report and Accounts 2004. “Marketing Finance Grant Payments 2004 Milleens Cheese Ltd. MIAP — 1,588” Retrieved July 2009 from http://www.bordbia.ie/aboutus/reports/Documents/Annual%20Report%202004.pdf
In 2009, the cheese won silver in the washed-rind category at the World Cheese Awards
See also: Interview with Veronica and Norman Steele, cheese makers (27 November 1985, RTÉ.
Literature & Lore
“Not the smelliest: Sir: I am sorry to lob a pail into the churn, but the claim that Vieux Boulogne is “the world’s smelliest cheese” (report, 26 November) seems to be based on a very narrow sample dominated by France and Italy. My own recommendation for this accolade would be the exquisite Irish farmhouse cheese Milleens, which has a browny-red crust, a soft white interior and smells like a bad case of bromidrosis. Fans of Frank Zappa will recall that this is more succinctly known as “stink foot”.” — Moon, Tony. Letter to the Editor. London: The Independent: 29 November 2004.
Andrews, Colman. County Cork: Food Capital. Saveur Magazine, Issue #91. March 2006.
Basham, Rupert. Posh ‘meals-on-wheels’ are going down so well. Chertsey, Surrey: Surrey Herald. 1 October 2008.
Bedell, Geraldine. An Irish Round. Manchester: The Observer. 9 March 2003.
Cowan, Cathal et al. Food Market Studies. Dublin, Ireland: The National Food Centre. May 2001.
Harbutt, Juliet. Cheese. Minocqua, Wisconsin, USA: Willow Creek Press. 1999. Page 93.
Fabricant, Florence. Where a Top-Notch Cheddar Gets the Proper Respect. New York Times. 28 May 1997.
Irving, Clive. Passages. Condé Nast Traveler. Condé Nast Publications: New York, NY March 2004.
Jordi, Nathalie. Milleens cheese takes the cake. “Eco Eats” Column. Plenty Magazine. New York. November 2008.
Majumdar, Simon. Milleens: Men (and Women) of Steele. Eat my Globe Blog. April 2007. Retrieved February 2009 from http://eatmyglobe.blogspot.com/2007/04/milleens-men-and-women-of-steele.html
Milleens. Wageningen Universiteit. Retrieved February 2009 from http://www.food-info.net/nl/dairy/milleens.htm
Mounier, J., R. Gelsomino, S. Goerges, M. Vancanneyt, K. Vandemeulebroecke, B. Hoste, S. Scherer, J. Swings, G. F. Fitzgerald, and T. M. Cogan. 2005. Surface microflora of four smear-ripened cheeses. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 71:6489-6500
Sexton, Regina. West Cork’s New Delights for Food Tourists. Retrieved February 2009 from http://www.ireland-fun-facts.com/west-cork-food-producers.html.
Steele, Veronica. Correspondence with CooksInfo.com. Spring & Summer 2009.
Surtees, Jon. Smell My Cheese. Southwark News. 17 December 2007.
Waitrose Food Illustrated Magazine. How to Fall in Love and Make Cheese. London: John Brown Citrus Publishing. February 1999.
|↑1||Irving, Clive. Passages. Condé Nast Traveler. Condé Nast Publications: New York, NY March 2004.|
|↑2|| Irish Food Board. Annual Report and Accounts 2004. “Marketing Finance Grant Payments 2004 Milleens Cheese Ltd. MIAP — 1,588” Retrieved July 2009 from http://www.bordbia.ie/aboutus/reports/Documents/Annual%20Report%202004.pdf|