Rightfully known as the 'King of English Cheeses', Blue Stilton takes its name from a village just south of Peterborough which was a coaching stop on the Great North Road. Recent research has revealed that a cheese called "Stilton" was made in the village in the early part of the 18th century. A recipe from that time published in a newsletter suggests that this was a hard pressed, cooked, cream cheese that would have been kept for some time before being eaten. Daniel Defoe referred to the cheese as the "English Parmesan". The cheese was sold from The Bell Inn in the village and its fame spread up and down the Great North Road. The landlord of the Inn - Cooper Thornhill - was an entrepreneur and trader and sold large amounts of Stilton into the London market. Faced with growing demand he set up an agreement with a renowned cheesemaker by the name of Frances Pawlett in the village of Wymondham - not far from Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire - to supply a somewhat different cheese which was also called Stilton. This we believe was the forerunner of today's Blue Stilton. Production of cheese ceased in the village during the course of the 18th century and most was then subsequently made in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and then Derbyshire. How the cheese evolved from its original style to the cheese made by Frances Pawlett remains unknown.
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Stilton is honoured with a certification trademark and Protected Designation of Origin status, meaning it can only be made in the counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and Leicestershire to a specified recipe. The milk must come from the three counties and must be pasteurised before use. The cheese must be allowed to form its own crust, can only be made in a cylindrical shape, must never be pressed and must have the magical blue veins for which Stilton is famed radiating from the centre of the cheese. Currently, there are just 6 dairies allowed to use the Blue Stilton name - Colston Bassett Dairy, Cropwell Bishop Creamery, Long Clawson Dairy, Tuxford & Tebbutt, Websters Dairy and Hartington Creamery..
It is smooth and creamy with complex, with a slightly acidic flavour when young. As it matures so the texture becomes softer and creamier with a mellow flavour. It makes an excellent dessert cheese and is traditionally served with Port at Christmas. However, it can be enjoyed all year round and is worth trying with a dark cream sherry or a sweet dessert wine. It is also very versatile and can be used in hot or cold recipes.
Being an open-textured cheese (not pressed) it is ideal for freezing - simply cut into portions of around 250 grams, wrap in foil or cling and keep for up to 3 months. The cheese should then be de-frosted in the fridge overnight.