Thursday, 24 February 2011

Stichelton Cheese

Using a particular cheese in a recipe can make such a difference to the overall outcome of the dish. Ask any chef and they will tell you that great food starts with great ingredients. This week I am working on a Blue Cheese Broccoli Quiche and hot salad combination, so recently I have been on the look out for a local Blue Cheese. I came across Stichelton cheese at St Giles Cheese in Northampton. It's mature, mellow, sweet and strong with a creamy texture and a melt in the mouth richness to it. It’s the brainchild of Joe Schneider and Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy who have joined forces to make a classic blue cheese from unpasteurised milk at a new dairy built on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire. Initially I thought it was Stilton, but discovered that it is made with unpasteurised milk and is not allowed to be called Stilton. I then read that Northampton university was looking into what bacteria yeast and moulds as secondary flora affected and interacted to affect the flavour of the cheese and how it did so. So I contacted Stichelton and Joe Schneider to find out more.
Joe kindly offered to showed me around the Dairy but with the children on half term I didn’t think it would be possible. But it was really no bother Joe said - bring them along! Luckily Joe has two children and had the gear to accommodate mine. Joe was just brilliant showing us the dairy and explaining the process in detail to my children’s delight!
After we left the dairy the children wated to meet the cows, so Joe took us to the cows and introduced us to Mick the fabulous farmer…
Joe send us home with a lovely piece of Stichelton to make my quiche with, but as I got home In the mean time I was wondering why in every other way this Cheese qualified to be called Stilton and my curiosity grew as to why. Joe had only made an obscure reference so I was determined to find out more …
I found out easily that both White Stilton and Blue Stilton are protected by their own Certification Trade Mark and EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and specify only pasteurized milk can be used. And yet originally Stilton would have been made using unpasteurized milk. Pasteurization being discovered in 1864, and the information from the Stilton site confirmed this. “There is no doubt that a cream cheese was being made and sold in and around the village of Stilton possibly in the late 17th Century and certainly in the early 18th Century and was known as Stilton Cheese. The cheese generally seems to have been matured for a period of time before being sold. Indeed a recipe for Stilton cheese was published in a newsletter by Richard Bradley in 1723.” So I had to find out why only pasteurised milk be used?
I discovered the answer by talking to Nigel White who is on the board of the Stilton Cheese makers association, (SCMA.)
Nigel kindly took the time to explain that pasteurised milk has a reduced risk of contamination. Nigel recounted that the rule was introduced following a recall of a small batch of Stilton in the 1990’s. An over reaction from consumers and supermarkets resulted in a sudden and absolute drop in sales as the public indiscriminately shunned all Stilton in a knee jerk reaction. Of course the industry took a huge knock and subsequently recovered, but there are very few producers and a decision was taken to reduce the risks as much as possible.
So there you have it – I think that Stichelton ironically is more Stilton than Stilton being made in the way that it would have been made originally .. and yet to ensure that a repeat of the 1990’s incident doesn’t happen it cannot be called so, and yet I understand why it has to be so now!
I had the impression that Nigel seemed genuinely sorry that this was the case. They were full of praise and admiration for Joe and the Dairy and on an individual basis I think they would have loved to have included Stichelton as a Stilton, but a decision has been taken by the SCMA that not every cheese maker will have the same scrupulously clean surgical like cleanliness of Stichelton Dairy, and if they let one in then it opens up more to follow therefore opening up to the possible risks again.
For all the research I ended up doing to understand why this cheese I want to use in Prepped II is not a Stilton.. I determined in the end, that there might be plenty of Stilton’s to choose from but for those of us in the know, and for devout cheese connoisseurs - there is only one Stichelton!

Available by Mail order from Neals Yard Cheese & in Northampton at St Giles Cheese.

1 comment:

  1. Fab! Hubby had a 'cheese off' at work recently & we chose Stichelton as one of his 3 so we knew a little about it but great to read more - I shall send him your way later for a look!


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