Many of us have long adored a well-known cheese called Stilton. It has been a favorite of mine since first introduced to me in the late sixties. At that time, Stilton had the reputation of being the “King of Cheese.” Brie was the Queen.
The King of Cheese: English Stilton
Stilton defies its first impression of rough, textured rind and crumbly texture to become quite creamy and spreadable when allowed to sit at room temperature for a while. This is the magic of Stilton.
Its taste comprises that of a mild cheddar with a pronounced blue vein flavor. To make Stilton, the developing cheese is pierced with long needles to allow Penicillium Roqueforti (naturally occurring in air) to populate the voids and create the blue flavor we know and love. Stiltons are aged for a minimum of six months but can also be aged for as long as eighteen months. The average wheel weight is approximately fifteen pounds.
A mere handful of dairies hold a license to make Stilton, and these are found only in the three English counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire. In 1996, the Stilton Cheesemakers’ Association (SCMA) obtained a PDO (Protected Geographic Status) designation for the cheese, making it England’s only name-protected cheese to date.
One of my favorite Stilton producers is Colston Bassett Dairy Ltd from the Nottinghamshire county. Like other all-natural cheeses, wheels can vary and experience production issues, so I carry another brand when necessary. I always say try before you buy, and that applies to me as well.
Stilton was made from raw milk until a listeria scare occurred in 1989. Going forward, the producers decided that all Stilton production would be pasteurized. Although Stilton itself was never associated with the listeria scare, its century-old cheese making tradition ceased.
I need to mention that there is also a lesser-known White Stilton to be found, but it neither looks nor tastes anything like the Blue version. You will often find the White version stuffed with blueberries, cranberries, ginger and mango, apricots and so on. These wheels are usually reserved for dessert purposes and have also become quite popular. White Stiltons with fruit blends are also less-aged; the fruit addition is the important theme here.
The Stilton Friends
I will often use these three very similar and equally well-made varietals in place of Stilton:
This cheese requires a little explaining. Stichelton is actually the original cheese production re-emerged. Made in Nottinghamshire with raw organic cow’s milk, it also made from the same starter culture used for the original Stilton. But since the post-Listeria 1989 agreement stipulated that all Stilton production be pasteurized, it cannot be called Stilton. Hence, the slight change in name. Stichelton is not better than Stilton, just a little different. You decide.
The only real difference between this cheese and Stilton is the bright yellow hue found inside the wheel. Uncut, you cannot tell the difference. Shropshire Blue also comes from England. It is pasteurized and made to the same size wheel.
This great tasting rival of Stilton is made at Arethusa Farms in Litchfield, Connecticut. Arethusa Blue resembles Stilton in all ways. It is also made from pasteurized milk and has the same rough exterior rind and crumble that yields to a creamy consistency at room temperature.
If not told, many will assume they are eating a great Stilton. In fact, Arethusa Blue was just awarded best blue-veined cheese at the World Championship Cheese Contest held in Wisconsin recently.
My September 2016 column in Ink Magazine highlighted many of the happenings at Arethusa Farm these days. In addition to cheese making, the farm runs two great restaurants, an ice cream shop and tours. I recommend you call before you go. We also sell their exceptional ice cream, and I just may be their best customer.
Stilton (or friend), Sweet Butter, Table Water Biscuits and Port Wine
The recipe for this delectable combination is simple. First, spread a thin layer of sweet or unsalted butter (never salted butter) on your choice of table water biscuit. I really like the Elki or Carr’s brands. Then spread a good amount of Stilton over the butter. The butter adds moisture to the dry biscuit and further smooths out the cheese. When paired with a glass of good vintage Port, a classic English dessert is created. You can also enjoy this as a snack or appetizer, but the addition of Port is what really makes it a great dessert. We have been enjoying this dessert for over forty years.