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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 with 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 Originally made with unpasteurised milk, most stiltons are now made with pasteurised and the difference on the palate is marked.
Adding a crumble of stilton at the last minute to a sauce or onto pasta or a baked potato can be interesting but take care not to heat stilton too much, as warmth increases the cheese’s inherent bitterness and changes the flavour.
The savouriness of stilton makes a great addition in small cubes to a salad and it makes for a great pairing with 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 a simple but effective accompaniment. The classic way to eat stilton, of course, is with a glass of port, although other dessert wines such as Tokaji, or Satuternes also pair very well.
Stilton should be kept cool, with any cut surface protected from the air.
Stilton is available year round, usually in pre-cut portions but plenty of speciality cheese stores and counters still buy the whole barrel and slice it to order.
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.
Most stiltons available are pasteurised but a cheese called stichelton is made the same way with unpasteurised milk; try it if you see it and decide which you prefer.