A true glory of British cheese-making that has much controversy about its origins, how it's made, where it's made and how it's best eaten.
Stilton is a large, tall round of lightly pressed cheese in a rugged grey crust; its creamy to golden-yellow body is tangled with savoury blue-green veins. Originally made with unpasteurised milk, most stiltons are now made with pasteurised and the difference on the palate is marked.
Stilton is available year round, usually in pre-cut portions but plenty of speciality stores and counters still buy the whole barrel and slice it to order.
Choose the best
Stilton cheese, the full-sized one, takes three months to mature to perfection. Those made with rich autumn milk are thought best, hence why stilton is so featured at Christmas time.
A perfect cheese is neither white and chalky, meaning it’s immature; nor yellow and oily, nor with a sharp nose, both of which mean it's over ripe.
Pouring port into a cheese ruins the carefully made textures and subtleties of both. Port goes with stilton, not into it.
Neither should stilton be scooped, unless the entire cheese will be eaten on one occasion or the scooped portion removed and the exposed surface then protected from the air, with butter or cling film. The encrusted body of stilton ripens without the direct presence of air. Once air gets at the surface of stilton all sorts of changes begin. Scooping was done much earlier when the crust of stilton was infested with mites, and it was considered a good thing to scoop up some of these to eat with your cheese. These days the mites have been banished and respect for the integrity of the cheese should also banish the scoop.
Slice stilton neatly into wedges and keep the remaining cut surface tightly protected from the air as much as possible. The flavour of stilton changes from crust to centre, where many blue-green veins meet. Thus it is awfully bad manners to cut off the point of a wedge of stilton. You should always slice the length of a wedge to serve or be served, so the full range of flavours is enjoyed. The crust is not meant to be eaten, nor should it be.
Most stiltons available are pasteurised but a cheese called Stichelton is made the same way with unpasteurised milk; taste it if you see it and then decide which you prefer.
Stilton, with its sharp and salty flavours, makes an excellent substitute for feta.
Stilton should be kept cool, with any cut surface protected from the air.
Considering the care taken to create and mature this noble cheese, always with great concern about temperature to ensure no off-flavours develop, many think it a crime to subject stilton to heat of any kind. Adding a crumble of stilton at the last minute to a sauce or onto pasta or a baked potato can be interesting but warmth increases the cheese’s inherent bitterness and thus changes the flavour of the stilton into something never intended or envisaged.
The savouriness of stilton makes a great addition in small cubes to a salad and greatly lifts and extends the pleasure of the sweeter stone fruits. It is very amenable to combining with butter, which softens its salty savouriness. A dribble of fine, clear, floral honey onto stilton is blissful, only a few steps away from the inestimable pleasure of eating stilton accompanied by a fine, chilled dessert wine, white or red.