WITH its origins as far back as the early 18th century, Stilton has long been popular on the cheeseboard at dinner parties. But, as the industry celebrates its first ever National Stilton Week, experts want to encourage us to cook with it too.
“Anything you can do with Cheddar, you can do with Stilton in terms of cooking,” says Nigel White, secretary of the Stilton Cheese Makers’ Association.
“As it’s always open textured and slightly soft, it melts fabulously and crumbles very easily.
“You can just crumble it over salads, or use it in a sauce, soup or dip. You can also top a burger with it, or put it in a chicken breast wrapped in bacon or ham to get the flavours coming through.
“When you mix it with other foods, it gives them an oomph, a bit of extra flavour.
“Even people who don’t like Stilton on its own will often enjoy a Stilton and broccoli soup, for example, or a cream cheese and Stilton dip.”
Like Champagne and Parma ham, Stilton is a protected name and can only be produced in the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. It is made with local, pasteurised milk, always produced in a cylindrical shape and never pressed, which gives it its open texture.
The cheese is allowed to form its own crust and, in the case of the blue variety, a safe mould is added, which causes striking blue veins to radiate from its centre.
Although the veins are one of the most distinctive features of the cheese, they are also one of the most divisive.
White says: “People can be intimidated by the appearance and by the smell too, which is why we always recommend you double-wrap Stilton.
“Only one household in three ever buys any blue cheese in a year, so it’s very much a niche part of the market.
There’s an education job to do in getting people to be a bit more adventurous.”
If you need more convincing, it’s worth noting that Stilton freezes brilliantly. It will relax back to its original shape when you defrost it in the fridge overnight so there’s no need to throw it away after a dinner party.
White adds: “Although we’d never recommend that you eat the crust, if you’re cooking the cheese it’s fine to use the rind. It will melt superbly and top chefs use it because it has more flavour than the cheese itself, so you never have to waste it.”
National Stilton Week runs from Sunday to Saturday, April 21. Visit stiltoncheese.co.uk for details.
2 heads of chicory, broken into separate leaves
75g bag watercress or mixed salad leaves
2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced
2tbsp lemon juice
2tsp olive oil
200g (7oz) Stilton cheese
50g (2oz) pomegranate seeds
Put the chicory leaves into a salad bowl and add the watercress or salad leaves.
Toss together. Toss the pear slices in the lemon juice, then add them to the salad bowl. Mix the olive oil with any remaining lemon juice and a pinch of black pepper. Break the Stilton into chunks and add them to the salad bowl.
Sprinkle with the lemon dressing and the pomegranate seeds.