I consider Stilton to be the grand dame of blue cheese. It’s not quite as old as some of the French blues, like Fourme d’Ambert, but it’s one of the first cheese that comes to mind when I think “blue cheese,” and it just has the regal quality about it. It is first thought to have been made in early 18th-century England, and even though it wasn’t made in the town of Stilton, many travelers en route from London to Scotland would stop here and purchase the cheese, thus the moniker.

Where did I find that fun fact? Why, the official Stilton Web site, of course! Here are some other gems:

•There are just six dairies in the world licensed to make Blue Stilton cheese — Colston Bassett Dairy, Cropwell Bishop, Long Clawson Dairy, Quenby Hall, Tuxford & Tebbutt Creamery and Websters.
•Stilton is a “protected name” cheese and by law can only be made in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire.
•It takes 136 pints milk (78 litres) to make one 17 lb (8kg) Stilton cheese.
•More than 1 million Stilton cheeses are made each year.
•More than 10 percent of output is exported to some 40 countries worldwide.
•Every cheese is graded before leaving the dairy to ensure only cheese of the highest quality is marketed under the Stilton name.
•White Stilton is also a protected name cheese and is made in a similar way to its blue cousin – except that no mold spores are added and the cheese is sold at about 4 weeks of age. It is a crumbly, creamy, open textured cheese and is now extensively used as a base for blending with apricot, ginger and citrus or vine fruits to create unique dessert cheeses.

OK, enough with the facts. How does Stilton taste? It’s on the stronger side of the blue-cheese spectrum, with a meaty, almost smoky flavor that fills your mouth. Though pasteurized, this cow’s-milk cheese offers enough oomph for even a raw-milk purist. I, of course, would be perfectly happy eating it straight from the wrapper, but it would also pair nicely with fresh fruit, such as apples and pears. The Stilton Web site also suggests plum bread and mango chutney, which would be intriguing to try.

Blue cheese=Port in many wine-and-cheese enthusiasts’ minds, and it’s certainly a good match, but keep an open mind when purchasing an accompanying wine. A sweet dessert wine or a full-bodied red would also work nicely. Artisanal Cheese and many other sites recommend a Sauternes if you’re not a fan of Port or are looking for a change from the usual wine.

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