Notes From An Epicurean: The king of cheeses

What Stilton should you stock for your festivities – or would another blue cheese suit you better? Simon Vernon explains what’s on offer.

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Christmas is traditionally a time when we indulge in fine food.
If we are lucky enough to be involved in a festive gathering it is a good excuse to stock some extra cheese to see us through the holiday period.

There are some cheeses which everyone associates with Christmas, but one must be named the King of English
cheeses – Stilton.
This world-famous delicacy is named after the village of Stilton, Cambridgeshire, where it was sold at the Bell Inn situated on the Great North Road. Stilton quickly developed a huge following with people stopping off to sample it while travelling between London and the north. The cheese was actually made in Leicestershire, but sold exclusively at The Bell.

Stilton is the only English cheese named and protected in law as ‘a blue or white cheese made from full-cream cow’s milk with no applied pressure (in the making or forming), that could be pierced, but not inoculated, that forms its own crust or coat and that is made in a cylindrical form, the milk coming from English dairy
herds in the district of Melton Mowbray and surrounding areas falling within the counties of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.’

It is now governed by the Stilton-makers association, formed in 1948. After an unfortunate food poisoning incident in the 1980s, when Stilton was wrongly blamed, the rules of production were changed to only allow pasteurised milk to be used.

Which Stilton is for you?

If you want the true blue stilton flavour I would advise you to go for a large piece rather than the Stilton in jars. The potted Stilton is usually white Stilton, crumbled up and inserted into a jar with some blue mould added and a wax seal placed over it.

Once the jar is opened the wax seal should be removed and the cheese left for the blue veining to develop. The contents of the jar usually just turn a shade of blue…

If you are planning a large gathering, then my advice is to go for an entire baby Stilton. They weigh about 2.5Kg (compared to a full-sized Stilton of about 7.5Kg). They are made in exactly the same way as the traditional size but using a smaller mould.

The ‘real’ Stilton?

If you want to taste a cheese which tastes as Stilton used to be when made with unpasteurised milk, then I suggest you search out Stichelton. It’s made in Nottinghamshire in the same way, but it cannot be called Stilton as it uses unpasteurised milk.

The local blue

You may prefer to have a local blue cheese – in which case the superb Dorset Blue Vinny, made at Woodbridge Farm just outside Sturminster Newton, is a great alternative (and is also named and protected in law). Rather than using the full milk as with Stilton, the cream is skimmed off before production which means Blue Vinny is lower in fat and therefore could definitely be argued to be a healthier option!

I wish you a festive foodie Christmas! Simon

by Simon Vernon

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