Long known as The King of Cheeses, blue Stilton is one a handful of British cheeses granted the status of a protected designation origin (PDO) by the European Commission. Only cheese produced in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire and made according to a strict code may be called Stilton. There are just six dairies licensed to make Stilton. They are subject to regular audit by an independent inspection agency accredited to European Standard EN 45011.
To be called Stilton, each cheese must:
be made only in the three counties from local milk which is pasteurized before use
be made only in a traditional cylindrical shape
be allowed to form its own crust or coat
have delicate blue veins radiating from the center
have a taste profile typical of Stilton.
How did it get its name?
Stilton cheese takes its name from the Village in Cambridgeshire on the Great North Road between London and Edinburgh. Until recently we had always believed that a cheese of that name had never been made within the town. However, new research has revealed a recipe for a cooked, pressed cream cheese that was being made in Stilton in the early part of the 18th century. The recipe was published in 1723. We believe that the cheese was kept for a long period before being sold and was almost certainly hard.
Daniel Defoe, writing in his "Tour through England & Wales" in 1727, remarked that he "...passed through Stilton, a town famous for cheese" and he described Stilton cheese as being "the English Parmesan".
The village of Stilton is situated about 80 miles north of London on the old Great North Road. In the 18th century, the town was a staging post for coaches travelling to and from London and Edinburgh. Horses would be changed and travellers served light refreshments at one of the hostelries in the town. Cooper Thornhill, an East Midlands entrepreneur, was landlord at the famous Bell Inn. In 1743 he struck up a commercial arrangement with a renowned cheese maker from Wymondham in Leicestershire by the name of Frances Pawlett. It is said that she supplied cheese to Thornhill and through a co-operative arrangement got other cheesemakers in Leicestershire to make Stilton to her recipe. This we believe was a blue veined cream cheese.
As demand for Stilton cheese grew so production switched almost exclusively to Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire and the town concentrated on selling the cheese rather than producing it. Cooper Thornhill and Frances Pawlett were responsible for the successful commercialisation of Stilton and the further development of a recipe that is the forerunner of today's Stilton.
The rest, as they say, is history!
How is Stilton made?
Early each morning fresh pasteurized milk is fed into an open vat to which acid forming bacteria (starter cultures), a milk clotting agent (such as rennet) and penicillium roqueforti (blue mold spores) are added. Once the curds have formed, the whey is removed and the curds allowed to drain overnight. The following morning, the curd is then cut into blocks to allow further drainage before being milled and salted. Each cheese requires about 24 lb (11 kgs) of salted curd that is fed into cylindrical molds. The molds are then placed on boards and turned daily to allow natural drainage for 5 or 6 days. This ensures an even distribution of moisture throughout the cheese so that, as the cheese is never pressed, it creates the flaky, open texture required for the important blueing stage. After 5 or 6 days, the cylinders are removed and the coat of each cheese is sealed by smoothing or wrapping to prevent any air entering the inside of the cheese. The cheese is then transferred to the store where temperature and humidity are carefully controlled. Each cheese is turned regularly during this ripening period. At about 6 weeks, the cheese is forming the traditional Stilton crust and it is then ready for piercing with stainless steel needles. This allows air to enter the body of the cheese and create the magical blue veins associated with Stilton.
At about 9 weeks of age, by which time each cheese now weighs about 17 lbs (8kgs), the cheese is ready to be sold. But before this happens every cheese must be graded using a cheese iron. The iron is used to bore into the cheese and extract a plug of cheese. By visual inspection and by smell the grader can determine whether the cheese is up to the mark and able to be sold as Stilton. Cheese that is not up to the mark will be sold as blue cheese.
At this age, Stilton is still quite crumbly and has a slightly acidic taste. Some customers prefer a more mature cheese and after a further 5 or 6 weeks it will have a smoother, almost buttery texture, with a more rounded mellow flavor.
The Stilton Cheesemakers' Association (SCMA)
The SCMA was formed in 1936 to represent the interests of the Stilton manufacturers and to raise standards. Today the SCMA has those same objectives but is also responsible for:
promoting Stilton world-wide
managing the trade marks; and
ensuring that standards are maintained at all licensed dairies.
The SCMA was granted a certification trademark for Stilton in 1966 and is still the only British cheese so accredited. This meant that the good name of Stilton was protected and that imitations produced other than in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire could not be sold under the Stilton brand.
In 1996, the SCMA succeeded in achieving Protected Designation of origin status for Blue Stilton from the European commission. Whereas certification trademarks had to be separately applied for in each EU country, the PDO effectively gave Stilton protection from imitation across the whole of the EU. in addition, over the years, the SCMA has been granted (or is in the process of being granted) certification trademarks for Stilton in many non-EU countries including the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The SCMA is responsible with the relevant government authorities for ensuring correct use of the Stilton name and in recent years action been taken against traders, manufacturers, and retailers in the UK and elsewhere who have attempted to pass off ineligible cheese as Stilton.
Facts and Figures
There are just 6 dairies in the world licensed to make Stilton cheese
Stilton is a protected name cheese and by law can only be made in the three counties of Derby shire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire
It takes 136 pints milk (78 liters) to make one 17 lb (8kg) Stilton cheese
Stilton takes its name from the village of the same name in Cambridgeshire where a cooked, pressed cream cheese of that name was originally made. We are still unclear how it evolved into a semi hard unpressed blue vein cheese but The Story of Stilton section sheds some light on its evolution.
Over 1 million Stilton cheese are made each year
More than 10% of output is exported to some 40 countries world-wide
Every cheese is graded before leaving the dairy to ensure only cheese of the highest quality is marketed under the Stilton name
White Stilton is also a protected name cheese and is made in a similar way to its blue cousin - except that no mold spores are added and the cheese would be sold at about 4 weeks of age. It is a crumbly, creamy, open textures cheese and is now extensively used as a base for blending with apricot, ginger and citrus or vine fruits to create unique dessert cheeses.
Using Blue Stilton
Blue Stilton is versatile and easy to use ingredient in a variety of starters and main courses - a little goes a long way. For Stilton Recipe ideas visit our web site www.stiltoncheese.com
Like all good cheeses Blue Stilton is best served at room temperature (20 degrees C or 68 degrees F)
Blue Stilton is a must for any cheese board - serve with crackers or traditional plum loaf
Unlike most cheeses, Blue Stilton may be frozen. Wrap in several layers of cling film and a layer of foil and keep in freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge and allow to reach room temperature before serving.
Blue Stilton goes well with any wine -- simply experiment.
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