Quick facts about Stilton
Stilton is unique among blue cheeses as it has a very long, slow set.
It is pierced at four weeks before maturing for a further eight, in order to develop its blue and break down the curd.
Today, only five producers of Stilton remain. They are Cropwell Bishop, Colston Bassett, Long Clawson, Tuxford and Tebbutt, and Webster’s.
Only two of these producers continue to make the cheese to traditional recipes that specify ‘hand-ladling’ of the curds. The Fine Cheese Co. stocks both of these cheeses: Cropwell Bishop ‘Traditional’ (differs from their standard cheese) and Colston Bassett.
Stilton cheese should have a crinkled, light drab crust and an ivory paste, with even blue veining radiating from its centre. The texture should be creamy and smooth, the taste mellow but complex.
Stilton has its own trademark and protected status. Only cheeses that come from the Vale of Belvoir (an area covering Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire/ Derbyshire) and are made with pasteurised local milk to the Stilton specification can carry the name (hence why Stichelton, which is made with raw milk, is excluded).
Stilton cheese made with Spring and Summer milk produces the best cheeses, which traditionally is why Stilton is eaten around Christmas.
The history of Stilton
Daniel Defoe famously mentions Stilton in his travels in 1724 as a town “famous for cheese”. While it is contested as to whether it was ever made here, it was certainly made famous by The Bell Inn in Stilton which sold it to passers-by.
In 1910 the Stilton cheesemakers organised themselves together to define and improve production methods, and protect the origins of the cheese. They later founded ‘The Stilton Cheesemakers Association’, gaining a trademark and the PDO it holds today.
Although its name and locality are specified, quality does vary. The 1910 definitions aren’t specific enough to prevent production of some poor quality Stilton, which can be dry, acidic, overly spicy, bitter, or claggy.
Around the turn of the century, production started to move to village dairies, with the last farm stopping production in 1935.
After World War II, growing industrialisation meant a change to automated methods of production. As time passed, only Colston Bassett persevered with the traditional recipe and continued to hand-ladle the curds in order to produce a creamier and smoother texture and taste. Only in 2010, did Cropwell Bishop join them to make a traditional, artisan cheese to sell alongside their standard cheese.
Wine and drinks pairing ideas
Stilton looks for its opposite in wine: something that counterbalances its saline richness. Port, as a wine that is both sweet and with weight is an ideal partner for Stilton.
Noval 10 Year Old Port is particularly delicious, its elegance coupled with notes of dried fruits, nuts and spices adds a warmth to the cheese.
Or you can try Slow Motion Sloe Gin. Its hedgerow-picked sloes are steeped in gin and have a delicate sweetness.
For the beer lover, Bath Ales Dark Side is a superbly smooth stout. It has a roasted barley aroma, a deep, dark colour and is extraordinary with Stilton.
Crackers to partner Stilton
Walnuts make a lovely match for Stilton, so Walnut, Honey and Extra Virgin Olive Oil Crackers from The Fine Cheese Co make a great partner. If you prefer your cracker to be neutral, we recommend a Fine English Oatcake to bring out the butteriness of the cheese. If you prefer a touch of sweetness, our Fine English Wheat Fingers are all-butter sweet digestives that are a delicious contrast with the saline richness of Stilton.