“1989 was a bleak year for Stilton. The illustrious English blue-veined cheese was accused as the culprit of a food poisoning scare that sickened several people whose Christmas tables it had graced. Fears that pathogens lurking in the raw-milk cheese were to blame triggered a knee-jerk decision that from then on, all Stilton would be made with pasteurized milk. The creamy blue was never proven to be cause of the outbreak, but it was too late. Production guidelines were rewritten, new equipment bought and methods changed. The centuries-old cheese as it has always been made ceased to exist.
Christmas, 15 years later: talented cheesemaker Joe Schneider and affineur and British cheese advocate Randolph Hodgson meet for a pint at London’s Borough Market one chilly evening. Hodgson propositions Schneider with an audacious plan: to bring back raw-milk Stilton from the grave.
This may sound a little dramatic for a cheese, but in essence the story of Stilton and its reincarnation Stichelton – one of the latest products to be included on Slow Food’s Ark of Taste – is one of rules, rebellion and revolution.
“Nobody had tasted raw-milk Stilton since 1989,” said Schneider, who showcased Stichelton at Cheese this autumn, Slow Food’s biennial event dedicated to artisan cheese and dairy. “When Randolph came to me with this proposal, it was like the holy grail of cheesemaking, to be able to bring it back.”
The pair approached one of Hodgson’s colleagues at his London cheese retail company, Neal’s Yard Dairy, who had kept a vial of the original Stilton starter culture like a living time capsule. Five months later, after a long process of trial and error judged against the two-decade-old taste memories of Randolph and other cheese experts, the first round was released.
With high quality raw milk, the historical recipe and original start culture at their disposal, the expert cheesemakers were on their way to making a fine cheese, and arguably the closest living example to the age-old Stilton. Just one issue remained: because of the new production rules, it couldn’t be called so. Instead they christened it Stichelton, the earliest-recorded name of the village of Stilton.
What’s in a Name?
In 1996, Stilton received Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, a European law that governs the use of certain products names, which set in stone the ban on raw milk Stilton. The PDO law aims to protect regional foods, their authenticity and traditional techniques, and producers must adhere strict protocols in order to use the protected name….”