One of the reasons Stilton is a quintessential Winter cheese is its age. It takes at least 9 to 12 weeks for this cheese to be fully mature. In the summer months when the cows are pasturing on lush, green grasses, their milk is much more rich and flavorful. So, when October and November arrive, the cheeses that have been made from summer milk will be perfect. These cheeses have the flavors of the pasture: sweet, fresh, green, deep and savory with a crumbly texture that is creamy in the mouth.
So many cheeses from the United Kingdom have historical significance and Stilton is no exception. This cheese has records of its production as early as the 17th century. There is a town of Stilton in Southeastern England where the cheese gets its name. Most of the Stilton cheese, however, is made near Nottingham, which is about two hours North of London. In 1996, Stilton earned “Protected Designation of Origin” or PDO status. This regulates the production of the cheese to make sure each cheese is of the highest quality. It also assures that the name “Stilton” can only be used by approved cheese makers.
Not just any cheese maker can make Stilton. There are only six dairies that are approved to produce Stilton, but at The Truffle Cheese Shop, we only carry the Stilton produced by The Colston Bassett Dairy. This dairy uses just four neighboring farms for its milk, hand-ladles their curds and they pierce the wheels later, so there is less blue veining but a more concentrated flavor in the cheese. It takes twenty one gallons of fresh milk to make one, seventeen pound wheel of this cheese. Every single wheel is inspected, tested and graded for quality before, during and after the aging process. With more than one million wheels made each year, these cheeses are truly handmade!
The simple ingredients of milk, salt and cultures creates all the cheeses in the world. Colston Bassett Stilton is made with pasteurized, whole cow’s milk, an enzyme called rennet to coagulate the milk, cultures and Penicillium roqueforti, which is the mold responsible for the ‘blue’ in blue cheese. The curds form and are then cut by hand. The whey is drained off, the curds are cut again and hand salted. The curds are then placed, never pressed, into a cylindrical mold and allowed to drain naturally for 5 days. They are then taken out of the mold, hand scraped on the sides to help the ‘crust’ develop and then placed in a temperature controlled room. The wheels are then turned once by hand three times each week. It takes five weeks to produce that beautiful, characteristic ‘crust’. Stainless steel needles are pierced into the cheese to introduce oxygen into the cheese, allowing the p. roqueforti to turn blue. As they age, each cheese is continued to be turned regularly to encourage proper maturity. Throughout the cheese making process, samples are taken from each wheel to test for bacteria, to make sure the bluing is developing and that the cheese has a pleasing texture and flavor.
Every time we taste this magnificent cheese, we can taste the care and love that goes into each and every wheel. A handmade cheese is a beautiful thing. A handmade cheese like Stilton with a glass of simple port, a room full of family after a bountiful meal is magical.