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"I fancy that Stilton is the best cheese of its type in the world"
George Orwell from his essay, "In Defence of English Cooking".
"Stiltons, with the exception that they make no noise, are more trouble than babies."
Stilton cheese maker, 19th century.
As Americans you may not be too aware of the wonderful English cheese Blue Stilton; if you've not tasted it - you don't now what you're missing.
Stilton is very much like Marmite- you either love it or hate it!!
There are in fact various types of Stilton cheese – there is Blue Stilton, White Stilton and fruit flavoured Stilton – like apricot or blueberry, but for this review I am discussing which is the most famous Stilton, and my favourite cheese – Blue Stilton.
There are several blue cheeses which are made in a similar way to Stilton; like Stilton, they obtain the characteristic blue veins from a fungus called ‘Penicillium roqueforti’. Some of these cheeses are the Italian Gorgonzola made from either cows' or goats' milk, the creamy Italian Dolcelatte made from cow’s milk, the French Saint Agur made from pasteurized cow's milk and of course, The French Roquefort, which is made with ewes' milk – the French refer to Roquefort as the King of Cheeses, but in my opinion they are biased and a good Blue Stilton will beat it any day.
I find that Blue Stilton is less salty and hard on the palate than other blue cheeses.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF STILTON CHEESE
Stilton Cheese was first made in the 18th century in the midlandsof the UK; the Melton Mowbray area is the most famous producer of the cheese. A recipe for Stilton cheese was first published in a newsletter by Richard Bradley in 1723 but this recipe did not give details on maturing the cheese, or its size or shape.
Frances Pawlett (or Paulet), who was a skilled cheese maker living and working in Wymondham, lays claim to be the first person who gave Stilton its first quality and shape standards
It was first made around 1720, and sold at the Bell Inn in Stilton, Huntingdonshire.
Stilton owes its name and reputation to the village, but it is not actually made there. The cheese was actually never made there but the location of Stilton (about 70 miles north of London on the Great North Road) was close to the villages that made the cheese and it was on the main route from London to Scotland.
Cooper Thornhill, landlord The Bell Inn, took advantages of the passing coaches and trade and started selling the cheeses from his Inn, consequently Stilton became the place where these cheeses were mainly sold and so became known as Stilton cheese.
With the growing popularity of the cheese the making of it moved to the Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire area leaving the town of Stilton and its area to concentrate on selling rather than producing it.
The village of Stilton now has a four-lane dual carriageway by-pass and so it making it a lot quieter than in Thornhill’s and Pawlett’s day, but the Bell Inn is still there and serving food to passing travellers – including Stilton Cheese!
In 1936 the Stilton Cheesemakers' Association was created so that they could protect the quality and origin of the cheese, and in 1966 Stilton was granted legal protection with a certification trademark; Stilton is the only British cheese to have received this.
Now Stilton is only made in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire – and there are actually only six dairies in these counties that are licensed to produce Blue Stilton using the original 18th century recipe. Even though there are such a small amount of dairies producing it, over 1 million Stilton cheeses are made every year - more than 10% of which is exported to 40 countries.
In 1996 these counties received Protected Geographical Status limiting the production to these three counties and with the stipulation that they must use pasteurised milk. Stilton, while giving the cheese its name, can not actually produce it as Stilton village is not in the three counties; originally in Huntingdonshire it is now part of the county of Cambridgeshire.
Stilton is smooth and creamy cheese with its famous blue veins that show more the more the cheese matures.
It has a typical fat content of 35%, and protein content of 23%.
Because of its Trade Mark and EU Protected Food Name, a true Blue Stilton has to follow the following rules:
- it can only be produced in the three Counties of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire
- it must be made from locally produced milk that has been pasteurised before use
- it can only be made in a cylindrical shape
- it must be allowed to form its own coat or crust
- it must never be pressed
- it must have the magical blue veins radiating from the centre of the cheese
MAKING BLUE STILTON
Fresh, locally produced pasteurized milk is put in a vat to which acid forming bacteria a milk clotting agent and "penicillium roqueforti" are added. When the curds have formed, the whey is removed and the curds are allowed to drain overnight.
Twenty four hours later the curd is cut into blocks to allow further drainage before being milled and salted. Each cheese takes about 24 lb of salted curd which is fed into cylindrical moulds. The moulds are then placed on boards and turned every day for 5 or 6 days. The cheese is never pressed and this turning 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 to stop 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 5 weeks, the traditional Stilton crust is beginning to form , at this stage it is ready for piercing with stainless steel needles. This allows air to enter the body of the cheese and create the characteristic blue veins.
At about 9 weeks of age, when the cheese weighs about 17 lbs, it 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 take out a plug of cheese. By looking and smelling the expert grader can tell 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 tase.
Personally I prefer it Some more mature cheese and if the cheese is left a few more weeks it will start to develop a smoother flavour and be more creamy.
White Stilton is also a protected name cheese and is made in a similar way to the blue - except that no mould spores are added and the cheese is sold at about 4 weeks of age. It is a crumbly, creamy, open textured cheese.
BUYING, STORING AND USING STILTON
When buying Stilton I like to be able to give it a good press to see if it is soft as I prefer a creamy Stilton to a dry, crumbly one – and it makes less mess on the carpet after a night of cheesy munchies!!
Stilton is widely available, both pre-packed and from the deli counter, I prefer to buy it unpackaged.
Stilton is around £8 per pound.
Stilton, like all chesses, should be taken out of the fridge up to 2 hours before serving so that it reaches room temperature (20 degrees C or 68 degrees F.)
Always keep Stilton well wrapped in the fridge and preferably in an air tight container – stopping the Stilton tainting any other foods in the fridge and vica versa. Properly wrapped Stilton will keep perfectly well in the fridge for a couple of weeks after opening. During this time you get the benefit of the cheese continuing to mature and will become creamier.
It also freezes well, just cut it into portion sizes, wrap in cling film or foil and freeze for up to 3 months.
De-frost slowly - preferably in the fridge overnight, slow defrosting is important to stop the cheese becoming too crumbly. Once it is defrosted use as normal but eat within a week and do not re-freeze. Frozen Stilton also grates really well.
Stilton cheese is really versatile and has a lot more use than on the cheeseboard.
It crumbles really well, or if used straight from the fridge slices well, it’s lovely crumbled into soups, potatoes, on steak etc the choice is yours.
STILTON AND WINE
What wines go best with Stilton?
Everyone has different favourites and different palates, but as a general rule, if you are eating Stilton with crackers and you are looking for a wine, then you want a good full bodes wine; either a full bodied red or a sweet dessert wine or fine Port.
Typical favourite wines to serve with Stilton are
• Any dessert wine – like Sauterne, Gewurztraminer or Muscat.
• Sweet dark Sherry.
• A full bodied, robust red wine such as a Shiraz.
NUTRITIONAL VALUES OF BLUE CHEESES
Water Fat Protein Calories
% % % %
Blue Stilton 38.0 35.0 23.7 410
Danish Blue 45.3 29.6 20.1 347
Gorgonzola 45.0 28.9 21.8 357
Roquefort 41.3 32.9 19.7 375
I do not know the price in American shops but Stilton is available from Amazon for $8.61 for an 8oz piece.
SOME STILTON TRIVIA
Starting in 1959, Cheese Rolling has become an annual event in the village of Stilton and every May Day hundreds of villagers and visitors go to the village’s main street to watch the teams battling to become 'Stilton Cheese Rolling Champions'.
The teams (many in fancy dress) compete in rolling large rounded blocks of wood (representing the cheese) along the high street for a prize of cheese and bottles of port.
The 2010 Cheese Rolling will take place on 3rd May.
A 2005 survey reported that Stilton cheese causes stranger dreams than other cheese, with 75% of men and 85% of women experiencing "odd and vivid" dreams after eating a 20-gram serving of it half an hour before going to sleep.
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