23 December 2006

Stilton!



"Blue cheese contains natural amphetamines. Why are students not informed about this?"
-Mark E. Smith, Lead singer of a UK 'post-punk' band "The Fall"

This is a ridiculous quote of course, but it is a nonetheless interesting fact. And, why not use it as an awkward and delicious segway in this world classic: Stilton. Stilton is a name-protected, classic, English blue cow's milk cheese made in the countryside areas of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire (central England, about 120 miles northwest of London). 3 points....
  1. There are only a handful of dairies that have made this cheese, many for over 90 years, and it remains name-protected by the bylaws of the Stilton Cheese Maker's Association. It is a cow's milk blue cheese that is usually well-aged (at least 6 months) and should be slightly crumbly yet smooth in texture. It has been described, by Steven Jenkins, as "smooth, rich, and creamy...with layers and folds of honey..and molasses".The bacteria that produce some of these flavors and, of course the blueing, actually occur naturally in the milk and in the air around the processing dairies.
  2. As is the issue in many countries, English dairy law has by-and-large transformed the process of using raw milk to make traditional English farmhouse cheeses (like Stilton and Chesire). Many Stilton dairies tried to steer clear of the mass milk-collecting and cheese-producing efforts, that started in the 1930s in England with the Milk Marketing Board in attempt to centralize the growing, dairy commerce. But this effort collapsed with ongoing central government pressures. According to Steven Jenkins, you could not buy unpastuerized Stilton cheese in 1996 (and the Stilton Cheese Makers Assoc. Website, updated in 2006, corroborates this point to the present day).
  3. As a general note on blue cheeses: future blue cheese curds are not cooked at high temperatures during production, like they are for many other cheeses, during the stage that involves 'concentrating' the curd by removing the cloudy, liquid whey protein. Heating at high temperatures causes the curds to clump and tighten into a more string-like structure. These non-cooked 'Blues' are merely concentrated and then left to ripen (or 'spoil', in a controlled setting) which allows the visible holes and fissures to promote and fill with bacterial growth. For Stilton, the 'blueing' process starts off naturally and then, often, long needles are often used to aerate the inner curds. 

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  3. Stilton was a very fine choice, and one of the World's great cheeses. It is essential that we included it early on in our quest for amateur cheese excellence. This marked the first of hopefully many 'actual' (vs. virtual) tastings, as M. Boster, Fontina, and myself were able to convene in real life, circa the holiday season. Our Arlington, VA meeting saw the coalescence of 3 people and 2 different UK dairies, both veterans of the EU/UK's protective Stilton Cheese Maker's Association (http://www.stiltoncheese.com/UK/dairies/dairies.cfm), a body which ensures quality control and excellence, stamping its "Designation of Origin" approval on only limited dairies making this great Blue. We tried the Long Clawson Dairy Stilton and the Colston Bassett Dairy Limited (see the side-by-side photos); Fontina also brought us a red zin. port (am I correct Fontina? what make, vintage?) and we tried it with both fromage versions, and in all combinations. This is a delightful cheese! It gives a flavor of medium moldiness, a la the Blue, but its centrist, whitish curd is soft and smooth with a cheddar-y fullness. Stilton is classically served with Ports and, according to the cheesemonger at the Arrowine specialty store in Arlington, also after Christmas or other holiday feasts. (He claims he can't keep it on his display in December). Stilton has a rich but distinct taste (a rich, dark chocolate analog in a world of pretty good milk chocolates). It's blue and its creaminess mix together well on the palate. The three of us unaminously agreed, in cohoots with Steven Jenkins, that the Colston Bssett is the definite version to write home about (note: we had only 2 to compare, whereas he looks at all of them). The Colston was so profoundly creamy with its 'well-swirled-in' moldy, that it took only 1.5 seconds for each of us to realize the difference that a dairy can make. We decided at the end to push forward and try some of other classic Blues in the near future to keep the comparative fromage torch alit! Sigh. Such is the life of the fromage philanderer. Until next time...
    (Colston Bassett- 7 slices)
    (Long Clawson- 6.5 slices)

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