East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

The King of Cheeses…

Stilton cheese hat at Melton Carnegie Museum

British Cheese Week has just ended, but you will still be able to get lots of information about cheese and recipes at www.recipes4us.co.uk/British%20Cheese%20Week.htm. And what  better time to remind you that there is a display about Stilton cheese at Melton Carnegie Museum. This includes a hat in the style of a Stilton cheese, commissioned to promote the cheese at Ascot Races and donated by the Stilton Cheese Makers’ Association, founded in 1936 to represent their interests and raise standards of manufacture.

There were lots of different varieties of regional cheese in Britain from the 16th century, but they really flourished in the 19th century as improved transport networks made it possible for them to be sold commercially over a wider area. Stilton is named after the village of that name in Huntingdonshire (now in Cambridgeshire), which was a staging post in the 18th century for coaches travelling between York and London. It is said that the landlord of the Bell Inn, Cooper Thornhill, served the cheese to travellers, having bought it from Mrs Frances Pawlett, a farmer’s wife living near Melton Mowbray, and thus – although it was never made in Stilton itself – it became known as ‘Stilton cheese’.

In the 19th century Stilton was still made on farms in the area rather than purpose-built dairies. Kelly’s Directory of 1881, for instance, notes that Stilton was made by ‘almost all the occupiers of land’ in Ashby Folville, a few miles from Melton Mowbray, and also ‘extensively made’ nearby in Barsby. This was part of the normal work of farmers’ wives and daughters at that time, which explains why you will rarely find anyone in the Census returns actually listed as a Stilton cheesemaker.

Here are some other facts about Stilton from the Stilton Cheese Makers Association (SCMA):

Part of the Stilton display at Melton Carnegie Museum

1.  In 1999 the SCMA secured ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ status for Blue Stilton from the European Commission, protecting it from imitation across the EU.

2.  The cheese can only be made by law in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

3. There are only seven dairies in the world licensed to make Stilton cheese.

4. Over one million Stilton cheeses are made each year, around 10% of total output being exported to some 40 countries around the world.

5. The blue vein of a Stilton cheese is created by the addition of blue mould spores (penicillium roqueforti). 6. The cheese is ready to be sold at about nine weeks of age, but has a more mellow flavour if matured for another five or six weeks.

7. Before going on sale it has to be graded by checking the taste and appearance to ensure that it reaches the required standard for Stilton – otherwise it will be sold as ‘blue cheese’.

8. White Stilton, also a ‘protected name’ cheese, is made by leaving out the blue mould spores, and is ready for sale after three or four weeks.  It has a crumbly texture, and is often blended with ginger, apricot, cranberries, mango or lemon to make dessert cheeses.

9. The village of Stilton has an annual Cheese Rolling competition in the High Street on May Day, using wooden ‘cheeses’ rather than the real thing. Spectators are advised that this is a ‘hazardous sport’ and are warned to stay behind the safety barriers.

10. Stilton can be used as an ingredient in many dishes. Here is a recipe for Rustic Stilton & Potato Cake from the Stilton Cheese Maker’s Association – see http://www.stiltoncheese.com/recipes/starters/1/ for lots more:

Rustic Stilton & Potato Cakes

2 sliced onions

1 tbsp vegetable oil

2 large cooked potatoes – cooled and cubed

6 medium eggs

30ml single or double cream

100g crumbled Blue Stilton

1 tsp chopped chives

Fry the sliced onions in the oil until caramelised. Add the cubed cooked potatoes. Mix together the eggs, cream, crumbled Stilton, chopped chives and season with black pepper. Pour cheese mixture over the potatoes and onions and cook over a low heat until nearly set, finishing under a hot grill. Sprinkle extra cheese over if required. Serve with red cabbage or a rocket salad and crusty bread.

The East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA) has a number of recorded interviews with people who worked in the Stilton cheese industry. For example:

Andrew Caldwell – 1487, TA/04/254

John Crosher – 1117, LO/464/414

Jean Morris – 1123, LO/470/420

John Stockdale – 1118, LO/465/415

These are available for listening at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland (ROLLR). See http://www.le.ac.uk/emoha/catalogue/recordofficerequest.html for information on how to access them.


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About this Sponsor

A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.