Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cheese: Blue Stilton

Stilton is the only British cheese with its own trademark. 
It is made only in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, England, and is one of only 17 British products granted PDO (protected designation of origin) status by the European Commission, which is the executive body of the European Union. What makes this particularly interesting is that the same cheese made in Stilton, in Cambridgeshire, where the cheese got its name, could not legally be called Stilton cheese. To be called Blue Stilton, the cheese must be made in one of the three English counties, from local pasteurized milk, must be made in a cylindrical shape (like the shape of a can), must be allowed to form its own crust,
must be unpressed, must have blue veins radiating from the center 
and must have a "taste profile typical of Stilton." 
There are only six dairies currently licensed to make Stilton (four in Leicestershire and two in Nottinghamshire) in the towns of Melton Mowbray, Colston Bassett, Cropwell Bishop, Long Clawson, Saxelbye and Quenby Hall. This is the area I served my mission in from 1976 to 1978 and several of those towns are familiar to me. There are other blue cheeses made in a similar way, with blue veins from the Penicillium roquefortis fungus, including Gorgonzola from cow or goat milk in Italy and Roquefort from sheep milk in Southern France. To make Blue Stilton, pasteurized cows' milk is put into a vat with an acid forming bacteria (starter culture), a milk clotting agent such as rennet and Penicillium roqueforti (blue mold spores). It takes 16 gallons of milk originally to make one 16 pound Blue Stilton cheese. When curds form, it is cut up using vertical and horizontal bladed knives and the curd settles to the bottom of the vat. The whey is removed and the curds drain overnight. The curd is cut into blocks and drained further, then milled and salted. About 24 pounds of salted curd is packed into a cylindrical mold for each cheese. The molds are placed on boards and turned daily to allow drainage for five or six days and to evenly distribute moisture throughout the cheese. Because the cheese is not pressed, it later remains crumbly and flaky. The curd is now solid enough for the cylinder to be removed and the cheese is sealed on the outside by smoothing using an ordinary kitchen knife to prevent air from entering into the inside of the cheese. At about five weeks the cheese is forming its crust and is pierced at random points throughout with stainless steel needles to allow air to enter the body of the cheese. The Penicillium roqueforti which has been dormant now starts to grow and form the blue veins. Once the mold begins to grow, the rods are removed.  A week later, a second piercing takes place. At about nine weeks of age, each cheese weighs about 17 pounds and is ready to be sold. Every cheese is graded by a cheese iron which is used to bore into the cheese and extract a plug. Cheese not up to the mark is sold as "blue cheese," not as Stilton. 
At this point the Blue Stilton is quite crumbly with a slightly acidic taste. With further maturing, after a few more weeks, the rind darkens and it starts to develop a smoother, almost buttery texture, with a stronger, but more rounded mellow flavor. The rind is grayish-brown with whitish powdery patches. 
It is best served at room temperature. Examining our Blue Stilton, I noted that the blue veining is more in the center and away from the rind. It is quite wet. The edge of the cheese is more brown near the rind and turns to tan as it goes toward the center of the cheese. The rind is soft and stinky.
It smells and tastes a little like a barnyard. The rest of the cheese has a taste that hints of saddle leather. Blue Stilton is one of the 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die

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