Drink a pot of ale, eat a scoop of Stilton, every day, you will make 'old bones'. Nineteenth-century saying, Wymondham
The Bell Inn, Stilton
The Centuries of Stilton --
Stilton takes its name from the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton located about 80 miles north of London on the Great North Road.
There has always been a degree of uncertainty about the evolution of Stilton Cheese. Until recently, it had always been assumed that it got its name from the village where it was sold and that the cheese had never been made in the village. However, research has revealed that a pressed, cooked, cream cheese was being made in the area and that it was known as Stilton cheese. A recipe published in 1723 suggests that this would have been a hard cheese. Daniel Defoe commented in his 1724 "Tour through the villages of England & Wales" that he passed through Stilton which was "famous for cheese". He described the cheese as the "English Parmesan".
Other references made about the same time clearly indicate that Stilton was a hot item even then – for reasons that we are not entirely sure. Maybe it was because of its high quality? It was a cream cheese to which extra cream was added to whole milk (when most other cheeses were often made from partially skimmed milk) and commanded a high price - probably making it one of the most expensive cheese of its time.
In 1743 Cooper Thornhill, owner of The Bell Inn in Stilton, struck up a commercial arrangement with a renowned cheesemaker from Wymondham in Leicestershire – Frances Pawlett – to supply Stilton cheese. She is credited as the person who gave Stilton its first quality and shape standards. Her skill at cheese making and her husband’s business acumen led to the first marketing cooperative in the area for Stilton. Frances would come to set the standards other cheese makers would need to meet for "blued cream cheese" good enough to be marketed as Stilton. Production probably ceased in Stilton village in the second half of the 18th century and making was concentrated in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire as demand increased.
In 1936, the Stilton Cheese Makers' Association was formed to maintain the quality standards.
In 1966 the Certification trademark "Stilton" was registered in the UK and subsequently in many other countries throughout the world. And in 1996 the SCMA was awarded a Protected Designation of Origin for Blue Stilton cheese and White Stilton Cheese. This PDO status means Stilton can only be made by authorized creameries operating in the three counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to a specified recipe using locally produced milk that is pasteurised before use.
Over a million cheeses a year are made by the seven creameries which are authorized to make Blue or White Stilton.
Over the centuries the recipe has evolved – the milk is heat treated, blue mould is added to the milk or the curd, the cheeses are pierced, stainless steel vats are used, the cheeses are shaped in cylindrical polypropylene moulds and the cheeses are stored in temperature and humidity controlled rooms. And all this to guarantee that the cheeses go blue in a controlled manner and develop to produce the rich, creamy and mellow flavours we associate with good Stilton.
The toll gate at Stilton, circa 1880.