Friday, February 26, 2010

Stilton: Britain's Historic Blue

Close-up of a cylinder of Stilton

Stilton, both a sharp creamy cheese and the name of a town in England, has, little by little, captured the attention of the whole world with it's piquant, moldy, creamy delightfulness. It is versatile and pairs great with wines, ales, fruits, veggies, and meats. Stilton is made in a somewhat chilly climate and so is a natural winter hibernation treat.

Like Champagne in France, the government of England oversees the use of the name Stilton so not just anyone can make a blue cheese and call it Stilton. It is an EU Protected Food Name and has its own certification trademark. In fact, the government has approved only six producers as Stilton cheese makers and it can only be produced in three counties.

The region around the town of Stilton has been producing what they call Stilton, but the actual cheese has changed and evolved over the last four centuries. As early as the late 17th century, there is documentation of this historic cheese's production and popularity. It is unclear if Stilton always had blue veins coming out from the center or was sometimes a white aged cheese (there is still such thing as 'white stilton' but it is not the traditional Stilton we are talking about). The cheese has evolved and today is guaranteed to be produced according to a legally binding recipe. It is also guaranteed to have been produced within the three government-approved counties: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire.

Stilton cheese is one of winter's great pleasures. A loyal follower suggested I do a posting involving mulled wine, stilton, port/winter comfort foods. Stilton, to me, is a great starting point. Starting with the star of the show and choosing a "supporting cast" of wintry accompaniments is a guaranteed win for comforting snacks!

Pick up a nice piece of Stilton at a reputable cheese shop and head to the wine shop for a deep red, port, or even a malty ale. Pair with your favorite chutney, winter fruit, and bread and let the wind blow outside.

Some thoughts on Stilton:

On a cheeseboard, serve at room temperature to enjoy full flavor and texture (68 F, 20 C).

Like a true Brit, serve with Mango Chutney and Port.

Unlike many artisan cheese, Stilton freezes very well.

Stilton gets melty when warm and goes great with potatoes, meat, vegetables and crumbles great on salads.

Some accompaniments I like and suggest are fresh or dried figs, dates, quince jam, fig preserves, roasted kumquats, mango chutney, and apple-raisin chutney (try Stonewall Kitchen Farmhouse Chutney).

Beef Brisket Burger with Stilton, Chips, and Cornichons!

An informative site on the cheesemaking process, the producers, and some very English recipes:

So whether or not you are snowed in, consider enjoying some stilton, bread, and wine this weekend. The winter won't last forever, even though sometimes it feels like it. There are only so many more weekends to enjoy these hearty, decadent eats before the sun reappears and we are out greenmarket-ing for salsa fresca ingredients.


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