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Veronica – a woman who understood ‘the art of living'

January 17th, 2017 11:55 AM

By Jackie Keogh

Norman and Veronica Steele sharing a laugh at their home outside Eyeries in 2012. (Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan)

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VERONICA Steele has been credited with starting the Irish food revolution, but it was her free spirit, and her humour, that endeared her to so many people.

Tributes have been pouring in following the death of the pioneering cheesemaker, who created the award-winning Milleens cheese 40 years ago with her husband, Norman Steele.

Veronica (née Barron) of Milleens, Eyeries, Beara, died at Bantry General Hospital on Wednesday, January 4th following an illness that was bravely borne. 

She is survived by her husband, her children Susan, Jenny, Kate and Quinlan, sons-in-law John and Stephen, daughter-in-law Deirdre, her 11 grandchildren, brothers and sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, relatives and friends.

Countless tributes have been paid, but one stands out: Ruth Healy of the Urru Culinary Store in Bandon aptly described Veronica as ‘a woman who understood the art of living’.

Food guide writers John and Sally McKenna also spoke lovingly about Veronica saying: ‘We have lost a dear friend and Irish food has lost its first champion.’

In creating Milleens, Sally McKenna said Veronica ‘not only made a farmhouse cheese, she also made a movement of artisan food producers, all of whom owe their inspiration to this singular woman.’ 

Sally said: ‘There was something both ancient and shamanistic about Veronica Steele. 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 JS 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.’

But Veronica started out that way: the former UCD philosophy and logic student met Norman Steele, a Sussex-born philosophy lecturer at Trinity, and followed him on the back of a motorbike to his reclaimed cowshed cottage in Beara.

There they lived without running water and electricity, grew vegetables, and began making what is now their world famous cheese.

In Veronica’s own words: ‘The place was so beautiful I couldn’t believe it. I gave up my job and came to live in a cottage at the foot of Slieve Miskish that had a lovely view down to the sea.’

The couple began using the leftover milk from their cow, Brisket, to make Milleens. Over the years, it won countless national and international awards, including Supreme Champion at the British Cheese Awards.

Just over a year ago, Veronica Steele was awarded the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award at the inaugural Irish Cheese Awards. At the ceremony, she was given a standing ovation. It couldn’t have gone to anyone else.

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