My 43-day lockdown cheesemaking quest!

Cork based Andrew Beecham who is retired and living in West Cork set him self a challenge during lockdown - making a different cheese every day, writes Chris Dunne
My 43-day lockdown cheesemaking quest!

SAY CHEESE! Andrew Beecham making the dairy product in his West Cork home.

HE used to be a big cheese in the world of broadcasting in the UK and USA — now Andrew Beecham is retired and living in West Cork.

And the 56-year-old has spent every day of lockdown making cheese, which he plans to sell off for a good cause when the restrictions are lifted.

It’s all a long way from his hectic career, which included being named the UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year and launching the Disney Channel there.

Andrew fell in love with Schull and retired to Derryconell in 2018. 

“My wife, Sarah, is a radiographer who trained with a friend who lives in Schull,” he explains. 

“We came here for a visit and then to bring the children every summer for 30 years.

“We just loved the area and we often thought about fulfilling our dreams of living in Ireland.”

And the dream came true for the Beechams two years ago.

Life in Cork offers a very different lifestyle. Then, when Covid-19 forced Andrew into lockdown, he kept himself occupied himself for 43 days by making cheese!

“I have tons of the stuff!” says Andrew, who began making it in New York as a hobby to combat the stresses and strains of his job.

“I found cheese-making pretty ideal for that,” adds Andrew. 

“It is a long process that requires time and patience. I learned everything about it from watching Youtube videos.

“Since we moved here, I did make some cheese sporadically. Then, once the lockdown was announced I decided to try and make a different cheese every day.

“When the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, I am planning a wine and cheese party with proceeds going to the local Coastguard. They are part of the community and part of our lives.”

Andrew’s old life was a world away from cheese-making. 

“I had my own business making corporate training videos,” he says. 

“After winning the Young Entrepreneur of the Year, I was picked up by the BBC as an assistant producer, making promos screened before programmes. I loved it! And I loved London.”

After that, he got the gig launching the Disney Channel in the UK. 

“It was an amazing opportunity. Playhouse Disney was a huge project in the UK. Creating TV content for pre-school children was a great experience. When a new pre-school channel opened in the USA, I got a job heading up programming. It was exciting.

“We moved from London to Philadelphia and the lifestyle was great. We lived in the surburbs. The kids, Hannah, now 25, and Olly, 23, loved it. My wife, Sarah, loved it. It was phenomenal. Philadelphia is an artistic city. We had all we wanted, a great house, space and good schools.”

The Big Apple beckoned, as Andrew was elevated to head of programming for NBC Kids based in Manhattan.

“On the upside, it presented me with an opportunity to never have to think about work or money again, but it was strange coming from the suburbs of Philadelphia to New York, living in the shadow of the Rockefeller Centre,” says Andrew. 

“It was an upheaval professionally and personally. The job was profoundly challenging.”

He was at the top of his game, rubbing shoulders with the likes of William Shatner, just one of the famous voices on kids’ original shows like The Clangers and Terrific Trucks.

“The programmes were very well made and of the highest quality,” says Andrew. 

“I had a very successful career, a big corporate job with lots of executive meetings and travelling to animation studios. It was exciting.”

But it was demanding. At 53, he re-assessed what he wanted out of life.

“I was in a position where I could retire. I looked at the options. We could stay in New York, but it was around the time of the Trump election so we weren’t going to do that. We looked at what we loved doing; walking and sailing.”

Andrew Beecham making cheese in his West Cork home.
Andrew Beecham making cheese in his West Cork home.

The West Cork coastline seemed very appealing. 

“Now we live in a beautiful old house looking out to Mount Gabriel,” says Andrew.

The way he went about buying the property was surreal.

“I was in the bath one night scanning the newspaper for properties in Ireland. When I woke up next morning I saw an email from an Irish solicitor saying my offer was accepted! I thought; what is he talking about? I hadn’t seen any house or put in any offer. Sarah was not pleased!”

The couple travelled to Ireland for a day to view the house. On close inspection, it was “a bit of a mess”.

However, as they were there they viewed another house. 

“When we drove up to the front gate, we didn’t even have to go in,” recalls Andrew. 

“We decided it was the one for us, a beautiful stone house with a garden and pond.”

Moving was a challenge.

 “The joke at the time was we were trying to get the contents of a 34ft container into a house just 30ft long!”

The idyllic setting allowed Andrew to indulge in his greatest pleasures.

“I bought a Heir Island lobster boat and I love going out on the water around Schull and join in regattas and the Baltimore Wooden Festival.

“I think if you have something to occupy your time and your mind, retirement can be the best time of your life.”

Then there’s the cheese-making... his lockdown samples must be filling his small house?! 

“The cheeses, each weighing about 1.3kg, are all maturing in my man-made cheese cave,” says Andrew, laughing. 

“It’s in the garage and it is already overflowing. So I hope the end of lockdown comes soon.”

What’s Andrew’s favourite cheese?

“I like Shropshire Blue,” he says.

“I made 42 varieties of artesian hand-crafted cheese. Now I’m making American cheese slices.

“There is only so much cheese you can eat! Fishing for mackerel and lobster is a fantastic experience.

“I take the boat out most days. We love the great outdoors, walking, sailing. And Sarah and I both enjoy cooking.”

The couple enjoy spreading the cheese around.

“We have very nice neighbours and I often drop some cheese off to them,” says Andrew.

“When we could socialise together, I used to bring a slab of cheese to a dinner party instead of a bottle of wine. I’m thinking if the wine and cheese party can’t go ahead after lockdown, I will do an online auction for the local Coastguard.”

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