Stilton cheese is a type of blue cheese made in England, and is sometimes referred to as the “King of Cheeses.” Stilton has been made since the 1700s, and has earned a protected origin designation, which means that only Stilton meeting a set of exacting standards can be labeled and sold as Stilton. Stilton is a popular cheese, with a flavor more mild than that of other blue cheeses, and is exported all over the world for a wide variety of table uses.
Like all protected origin cheeses, Stilton is monitored by an independent governmental agency, which performs random inspections to make sure that the cheese is kept up to standard. Gaining a protected origin designation is a valuable way to preserve the culinary heritage of a region, with consumers being confident that they are getting authentic British Stilton when they purchase the cheese. In addition, it means that Stilton is a highly consistent cheese, without the wide range of quality and flavor encountered in generic cheese.
Stilton is a creamy cheese marbled with rich blue veins, and it has a rich flavor which will mellow with additional aging. Stilton usually also has a sharp after taste, which complements many foods well. The traditionally wrinkled crust of the cheese is not edible and should be cut away before eating. Because Stilton is not pressed, the cheese remains crumbly and flaky, ideal for salads, pastas, and pizza. Older Stiltons sometimes appear on dessert platters, lending a distinguished creamy flavor to the table.
To be considered Stilton, the cheese must be made in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, or Derbyshire in England. Within these three counties, only six dairies are licensed to make the cheese, which will be inspected after it has ripened to determine whether it is worthy of the Stilton designation or if it will be sold as mere blue cheese instead. In addition, Stilton is always made in the shape of a cylinder, is never pressed, and is allowed to develop its own wrinkly crust. The cheese must also have fine blue veins radiating out from the center.
Stilton is one of the few protected origin cheeses made from pasteurized milk. Stilton is made by mixing this pasteurized milk with rennet, started cultures, and Penicillium roqueforti for the mold. Curds will form in the mixing vat, and are removed to drain overnight. After draining, the curds are cut to release further whey and ensure even drainage. These curds are salted and poured into cylindrical molds which are rotated periodically while the cheese begins to ripen, but never pressed. As a result, the cheese has a loose and flaky texture which will promote the growth of blue mold.
After one week, the cheese has firmed in the cylinder enough that the cheese form can be removed, and the cheese is tightly wrapped to prevent air from entering it. The cheese is stored sealed, in a humidity and temperature controlled area in order to ripen. At the end of six weeks in storage, it is pierced to allow air in, which will permit the characteristic veins of blue mold to form.
After nine weeks, the cheese is considered salable, although the young cheese will have a sharp flavor. Consumers who prefer a more mellowed cheese will wait an additional six weeks for a more buttery Stilton.