Weekend food with Darina Allen: Veronica Steele and Milleens cheese

I want to write a little tribute to Veronica Steele, an extraordinary woman who unwittingly started the artisan food movement in Ireland. 
Weekend food with Darina Allen: Veronica Steele and Milleens cheese

I can’t begin to improve on this wonderfully description of how it all began in Veronica’s own words on the Milleens website:

“The old shop in Castletownbere with its saucepans and shovels ... and smoked hams hanging from hooks in the ceiling and huge truckles of cheddar on the wooden counter with their mouldy bandages the crumbs of the cheese strewn around, scrumptious, tempting, melt-in-the-mouth crumbs which you could nibble at as you queued to be served, with your message list.

“And then she would cut a fine big chunk, golden or white and what I missed the most is the way it crumbled. So they closed it and gutted it and extended it and re-opened it. Enter the trolley. Spotless, sterile, pre-packed portions sweating in their plastic.

“Tidy piles. Electronic scales. Keep moving. Don’t block the aisles. No idle chatter. And then one day in a different shop that jolly French pair of geriatrics asking for the local cheese and being given Calvita. And then we bought a farm and a cow.

“Her name was Brisket and she only had one horn... And all the milk she had. At least three gallons a day. Wonder of wonders and what to do with it all. And then remembering those marvellous cheddars.

“So for two years I made cheddars. They were never as good as the ones in Castletownbere had been but they were infinitely better than the sweaty vac-packed bits. ... So one day Norman said, ‘Why don’t you try making a soft cheese for a change’. So I did.

“Now while this was all going on we had a mighty vegetable garden full of fresh spinach and courgettes. And we would sell the superfluity to a friend who was a chef in a restaurant and took great pains with her ingredients.

“So there was this soft cheese beginning to run. We wrapped up about twelve ounces of it and away it went with the vegetables and the pies to Sneem and the Blue Bull restaurant where it made its debut.

“Not just any old debut, because, as luck would have it, guess who was having dinner there that very same night? Attracted no doubt by Annie’s growing reputation and being a pal of the manager’s, Declan Ryan of the Arbutus Lodge Hotel in Cork had ventured forth to sample the delights of Sneem and the greatest delight of them all just happened to be our humble cheese.

“The first, the one and only, Irish Farmhouse Cheese... For eight years, this was written in 1986, now we have devoted our energies to the continued improvement and development of Milleens cheese, and show no intention of stopping. ”

Here at Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School we still serve Milleens cheese proudly and give thanks for the life of Veronica, the matriarch of all the Irish farmhouse cheese makers.

Bernadette O’ Shea’s Milleens Pizza – from Pizza Defined

This is one step up from a pizza baked blind. It doesn’t have a sauce, it doesn’t have Mozzarella, it doesn’t have any of the traditional things you associate with a pizza.

When Milleens is cooked and melts, it has a buttery, slightly nutty sharp taste and the perfect pairing for that is sun-dried tomatoes, and a glut of soft herbs on top, always soft herbs: yellow marjoram, sweet marjoram, basil and oregano.

These suit the herbaceousness of one the great West Cork cheeses.

140g (5oz) basic pizza dough

Basil oil or sun-dried tomato oil

85g (3oz) sundried tomatoes, excess oil squeezed out, shredded into strips

85g (3oz) cream cheese

85g (3oz) Milleens cheese, very finely sliced

Fresh herbs (marjoram, oregano, basil, yellow marjoram, lemon thyme etc.)

Rosemary oil or sun-dried tomato oil

Place Pizza Tile on floor of the oven and preheat to maximum for one hour.

Assembling the pizza – Stretch the dough into a 20cm (8 inch) circle. Brush the surface with basil oil, or sun-dried tomato oil. Scatter the sundried tomatoes on top of the base. Dot with cream cheese to prevent from burning. Cover with Milleens. Bake in the preheated oven for approx. 10 mins.

After cooking brush the outer edge of the pizza with either rosemary oil or olive oil from the sun-dried tomatoes and scatter over a generous amount of the fresh herbs.

Bitter Orange Marmalade

This is a dark marmalade, made with whole Seville or Malaga oranges for those who, like me, enjoy a more bitter-tasting preserve.

Makes 4.5kg (10lb)

1.3kg (3lb) Seville oranges (organic if possible)

juice of 2 lemons 2kg

(41/2lb) white sugar, warmed

225g (8oz) soft brown sugar, warmed

Scrub the oranges and put them into a large preserving pan. Put a plate on top to weigh them down and add enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, cover and cook until tender, about 2 hours. Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon, reserve the cooking liquid and when the fruit is cool enough to handle, cut it in half. Put the pips and fibrous bits from the centre aside. Cut the peel into 5mm (1/4in) strips. Put the pips and fibrous bits into a small pan with some of the reserved cooking liquid and boil for 10 minutes.

Strain the cooking liquid back into the preserving pan into the preserving pan.

You should have about 1.6 litres (23/4 pints) of cooking liquid; add more water if necessary. Add the sliced orange peel and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Bring to boiling point. Add warmed white and brown sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring, and cook rapidly until setting point is reached, about 20 minutes.

Skim and leave to cool for a further 20 minutes. Pot into hot, sterilised jars. Cover and store in a cool, dry place.

Tagliatelle with Milleens

I’m not sure who gave me this recipe but it’s truly delicious

Serves 4

225g/8oz grated Milleens or other rind-washed cheese

300ml/½ pint cream

a handful of fresh sage leaves

350g/12oz tagliatelle

8 pints water

2 tablespoons salt

Place the sage leaves in a saucepan and pour in the cream. Warm the cream, but be careful not to overheat. Allow to sit in a warm place until the cream has absorbed the flavour of the sage and then strain.

Add the Milleens and, if necessary, warm gently and stir until the cheese has completely melted. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil (8 pints water to 2 tablespoons salt). Cook the tagliatelle until al dente.

Drain. Pour the creamy sauce over the tagliatelle, taste and correct the seasoning. Mix and serve.

This dish stands alone, but can be made more substantial by the addition of ham, which has been cut into strips the same width as the pasta or alternatively some white or smoked fish or chopped cooked spinach, or some lightly cooked fennel.

Watercress, Blood Orange and New Season Macroom Mozzarella Salad

The new season’s blood oranges from Italy are in the shops, here we pair them with Macroom Mozzarella winner of World Cheese Awards 2016-2017 to the astonishment and chagrin of the Italian Cheesemakers.

The rich West Cork pasture that the buffalos feed on give the cheese its quintessentially Irish taste.

A few beautiful fresh ingredients put together simply make an irresistible starter.

Serves 4

2-3 balls of fresh Macroom mozzarella

2 blood oranges

a bunch of fresh watercress

2-3 tablespoons

Irish honey

a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

some coarsely ground black pepper

50g (2oz) unskinned almonds, toasted and sliced

Toast the almonds in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool and then slice each almond lengthwise into 2-3 pieces.

Just before serving, scatter a few watercress leaves over the base of each plate, slice or tear some mozzarella over the top. With a sharp knife remove the peel and pith from the blood oranges, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) thick slices, tuck a few here and there in between the watercress and mozzarella. Drizzle with honey and really good extra virgin olive oil. Scatter with toasted almonds. Finally add a little coarsely ground fresh black pepper and serve.

Hot tips

Midleton Farmers Market

It’s all about a healthy gut flora these days so seek out Jerusalem Artichokes, the wonder root that is higher in inulin than any other vegetable. Check out the BCS stall at Midleton Farmers Market which reopens today, 9am-1.30pm.

Best in show

Native Irish oysters are at their very best at present. The only accompaniment they need is a squeeze of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a slice of soda bread. Check out Kelly Oysters www.kellyoysters.com,Dungarvan Oysters www.hartyoysters.com, Sherkin Oysters 087 2029898 or enjoy a dozen in the English Market

In season

It’s marmalade time again. Seville and Malaga oranges are in the shops, snap them up because the season is short. If you can’t get round to making marmalade at present, pop them into the freezer and make whole orange marmalade in a few weeks.

Going gluten free

As anyone who is coeliac, or who cooks for someone who has a gluten intolerance, will testify, it can be challenging to produce really delicious, balanced meals. Finally, help is to hand - on Saturday January 28, this intensive half day course is ideal for those on a gluten free diet who face the dilemma of longing to taste ‘real’ food. You’ll learn about a whole range of tasty and easy-to-prepare dishes including gluten-free sweet and savoury pastry, crackling salmon with coriander pesto and gluten free raspberry muffins.

Advice on alternative ingredients and lots of baking tips will help take the mystery out of successful gluten-free cooking. www.cookingisfun.ie

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