Saturday, 27 March 2010

New (Blue) Cheese on the Block; Stichelton

It is described as a classic English blue cheese, but it is most definitely not Stilton.

It is in fact Stichelton, a relative newcomer to the English artisan cheese scene. It has been made since 2006 by American cheese maker Joe Schneider, in collaboration with Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy, at Collinthwaite Farm on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire. It is produced from organic milk from the farm's 150 Friesian-Holstein cows.

The name Stichelton (pronounced as it is spelt, stitch-el-ton not stick-el-ton) apparently derives from an early name for the town of Stilton, as recorded in the 11th century Doomsday Book. The cheese is actually produced within the allowed PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) geographical area for Stilton and is made to what is essentially a traditional Stilton recipe. So the links with the archetypal English blue cheese are certainly more than tenuous. But crucially Stichelton is made from unpasteurised (or raw) milk and, as such, it is prevented from being called Stilton.

Evidently those Stilton producers who weren't already doing so, began using pasteurised milk after a food poisoning outbreak in 1989. The link with Stilton was unproven but it still brought to an end the use of unpasteurised milk in its production and pasteurisation, perhaps controversially, became one of the factors stipulated in the PDO status for Stilton when it was granted in the mid 1990's.
I was brought up on unpasteurised cow's milk, straight from the udder, and the difference is noticable. I still look forward to visting the farm, to return home with a carton of unadulterated full fat, raw creamy milk from my dad's own herd of Friesian-Holsteins. I firmly believe that pasteurisation does have a detrimental effect on the flavour and structure of milk and think this is well illustrated in the end result of this cheese. Surely many of its fabulous characteristics must be directly attributable to the use of unpasteurised milk.

It is undeniably reminiscent of traditional Stilton, yet Stichelton seems somehow to have an added dimension of flavor and texture. It has a rich, buttery mouth feel, almost moist in texture, with a full flavour that develops in the mouth and lingers afterwards. It is unmistakably creamy, in both colour and flavour, yet there is deep salty sharpness from the well distributed blue mould. This is a sensational cheese.
Stichelton - it's Stilton, only better.

Availability is limited but check out the website for a full list of suppliers; stockists include the Welbeck Farm Shop on the estate and Neal's Yard Dairy (it is also available via the Neal's Yard mail order service).

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