Stilton is surely the king of British cheeses, though aficionados of Cheddar and Lancashire may beg to differ. Take in evidence Stilton’s unassailable place in the Christmas shopping basket, and in this country at least on the cheeseboard of any traditional restaurant worth its salt.
The fame attaching to the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton is an early example of retailers winning out over producers. The cheese was made in Stilton and gained fame by being sold to the coaches stopping there on their way along the Great North Road – Stilton was the nearest overnight staging stop to London . Another home of the cheese was the rich pastureland around Melton Mowbray .
Daniel Defoe ate the cheese in situ 1722, relating how the mites on the Stilton were a delicacy to be eaten with a spoon along with the cheese itself, as is still done in some Spanish restaurants with the ripest Manchego cheese. The Bell Inn in Stilton was credited with spreading the fame of the product by serving it to its customers, coach passengers and wealthy visiting huntsmen alike.
It seems quirky that Protected Designation of Origin status has been accorded both white and blue versions of a cheese not made in the place for which it is named – only cheeses made with local milk in Leicestershire , Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire by the traditional methods can be labelled Stilton now.
Stilton is made with pasteurised full fat cows milk, to which a starter and rennet is added, the whey separated from the cut curds by being drawn off. The resulting curds develop their acidity, and then are milled into golf-ball sized lumps, salted and put into ‘hoops’, moulds to make the typical tall cylinder shape of Stilton. At roughly a week this cheese is injected with spores of the Penecillum Roqueforti mould that will give it the Delft-blue veins, a process furthered by the cheese being pierced four weeks on with metal spikes to let air get to the interior, and hasten the growth of the veins there. A second piercing can also be made to ensure that this spread is through the whole cheese.
The cheese is turned regularly as it matures, to allow its own weight to squeeze out liquid – this process is part of its designated method. This maturing will take around ten weeks, at which time a hollow cheese-iron will be used to extract a plug from rind to centre for checking and grading.
The crust of good Stilton will be fairly hard and rough, but without cracks. It should also have patches of white bloom. The veins will be throughout the cheese, but not dominating it. Texture and flavour both vary with maturity – the cheese grows softer with age, less likely to crumble, and the salty tang blends with the over-riding creamy taste, plus something that is harder to define – a hint of wine, perhaps Port, a drink with which aged Stilton has a marvellous affinity, hence perhaps its place at the table over the Christmas celebrations, and at gentlemen’s clubs in Pall Mall.
Stilton is a cheese that deserves to be savoured on its own. If a carrier is required, let it be of neutral flavour, for example a cream cracker. On no account should it be served with butter beneath, something which would overwhelm and mask the creamy taste of the cheese itself. The sweetness of Port is a wonderful accompaniment, bringing out the salt of the Stilton.
From Richard Landy on 15th October 2009
A Famous cheese called Stilton cheese was produced in the village of Stilton prior to 1722 and continued to be made there throughout most of the 18th century as now acknowledged by the Stilton Cheese Makers' Association (SCMA)
On this day: