Saturday, December 19, 2009

The King of English Cheese and the Wine of Philosophy

Stilton is a classic cheese for the Christmas season which can be made more indulgent by pairing it with Port. There is a Christmas tradition of scoping out a wheel of Stilton and pouring in Port. This website has a wonderfully detailed description of this process. They state that a “head of Stilton will take 2 weeks to drink a bottle of Port”.

Stilton was created in the early 18th century in the midlands of England. Stilton was named after the town of Stilton which is 80 miles north of London. Legend has it that in 1730 Cooper Thornhill, owner of the Bell Inn in the village of Stilton, discovered this blue cheese while visiting Leicestershire. He fell in love with the cheese and was granted full marketing rights to blue Stilton. The Bell Inn was located near a major stagecoach route between London and Northern England which helped to advance the popularity of the cheese. Frances Pawlett was a skilled cheesemaker in Wymondham who is credited with setting the standards for Stilton. Frances and her husband organized the first cooperative in the area to produce Stilton. Together, Thornhill and Pawlett helped to build the reputation and popularity of Stilton.

The Stilton Cheesemakers Association was formed in 1936 to lobby for regulations to protect the origin and quality of the cheese. Stilton was granted legal protection with a certification trademark 30 years later in 1966 and was the only British cheese to have this status. As Stilton has a Protected Geographical Status (POD), there are specific guidelines for its making. Stilton can only be made by authorized creameries in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Derbyshire. Stilton can no longer be legally made in the town of Stilton as it is not in one of the 3 permitted counties. There are only 6 creameries currently producing Stilton. Stilton can only be made from local pasteurized milk. Stilton can only be made in the traditional cylindrical shape and it must develop its own coat or crust on the outer rind. Stilton is never pressed and has delicate blue veins radiating from its center. Stilton will have a typical fat content of 35% and protein content is 23%.

Stilton is considered the King of English cheeses. The British enjoy their cheese and cheese has become a part of their popular culture. Most of us are familiar with the Monty Python cheese shop sketch and Wallace & Gromit and their cheese loving ways. The British Cheese Board conducted a survey in 2005 that reported 75% of men and 85% of women experienced “odd and vivid” dreams after eating a 20 gram serving of Stilton half an hour prior to bedtime. Try some Stilton before bedtime and be sure to keep your dream journal by your bedside to capture those vivid dreams upon waking.

When storing Stilton, keep it tightly wrapped and store in an air tight container. This will prevent your cheese from drying out and protect your other food items from being tainted by blue mold. This cheese will keep in the fridge for weeks and it will continue to mature as it ages becoming more intense in flavor. I do not often advocate the freezing of cheese but as the Stilton cheese website,, states it “freezes beautifully. Simply cut into easy to handle portions, wrap in cling film or foil and freeze for up to 3 months. De-frost slowly – preferably in the fridge overnight. Allow to reach room temperature before serving.”

Stilton pairs well with pears, celery, walnuts, and charcuterie. It can be added to sauces, soups, salads, and burgers. Stilton can top a steak, cracker, or bread. Stilton enjoys sweet accompaniments so experiment with chutneys and sweet breads or crackers. Stilton pairs well with sweet wines, sherry, and Shiraz. Port is the preferred drink to enhance Stilton so let us explore Port.

The origins of Port lie in the Douro Valley of Portugal. It is a fortified wine which means grape spirit is added during fermentation to halt the fermentation process. This leaves the wine with more residual sugar and higher alcohol content. This made shipping Port from Portugal to England much easier as the alcohol and sugar increase its shelf life.

Port is very sweet and usually served after dinner with dessert. There are several styles of Port and The Vineyard offers a wide variety for you to choose from. Any Port will pair perfectly with Stilton. Port and Stilton are a classic match because they provide a wonderful balance for each other. The sweetness of the Port is balanced by the saltiness of the cheese. The flavors combine on the tongue to form a unique flavor.

Port should be served at a temperature between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Your glass should be filled no more than half way to appreciate its aroma. Most Ports can be enjoyed after opening but Vintage Ports require decanting. To decant a Vintage Port, stand the bottle upright for at least 24 hours and up to one week, to allow time for the sediment to settle to the bottom. If the cork breaks, strain the wine while decanting but do not use paper filters as it will affect the flavor. If you love Sabrage service for opening Champagne, you can open your Port with traditional Port tongs. The tongs are heated to red hotness then clamped around the neck of the bottle below the cork and above the shoulder of the bottle for 1 to 2 minutes. Then apply a wet towel to the same spot and the rapid change in temperature will cause the glass to cleanly break.

Port is traditionally served at the end of a meal and leisurely enjoyed. Port can have a warm calming affect and is considered the “wine of philosophy". Contemplatively sip your Port and nibble your Stilton and enjoy stimulating conversations. Maybe Mr. Chesterton was sipping Port and enjoying Stilton when he wrote his Sonnet to a Stilton Cheese.

Sonnet to a Stilton Cheese:

Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I–
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.
Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading “Household Words”,
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.

- G.K. Chesterton

Stilton and Port are wonderful for cooking and baking, together and on their own. Last Christmas I made this wonderful Pear, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Crumble. I have included this recipe and others below. Happy Holidays.

Pear, Walnut and Blue Cheese Crumble

• 6 large pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons Ruby Port
• 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
• 1/4 cup light brown sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
• 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch baking dish with butter and set aside.
In a bowl, toss the pear slices with the lemon juice. Add 1 tablespoon flour, the sugar, and port, and toss to combine. Arrange in the prepared dish. In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup flour, finely chopped walnuts, brown sugar and salt. Add the butter, working in with your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the pear mixture. Bake until the pears are tender, the juices bubble, and the crust is golden, 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Cook until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Aged Blue Stilton and Port Souffle

Serves 1
85g/3oz Aged Blue Stilton®
2 tbsp Port
3tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 egg yolk
3 egg whites
1 tbsp lemon juice

1) Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Place the Aged Blue Stilton®, Port and cream into a non-stick ovenproof skillet. Heat gently untill
the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolk.
2) In a bowl, whisk the egg whites with the lemon juice until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Fold the egg whites into the
cheese mixture.
3) Transfer to a ramekin dish and bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes, or until well-risen and lightly golden on top.

Port & Stilton Sauce Adapted from the Dairy Book of Home Cookery — Everyday Specials

4 ounces (125 grams) Blue Stilton
6 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons of Port
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Blend the cheeses and port in a food processor or blender. Put the mixture into a saucepan and heat gently until melted and bubbling; add already warmed pine nuts and seasoning to taste.
If you are serving the sauce with steaks, cook the steaks and add them to the sauce and cook for a further 1-1/2 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve with a selection of traditional vegetables.

Stilton, Port and Walnut Paté

225gr Stilton
50gr unsalted butter
3 tbsp Port
125gr chopped walnuts
Place the cheese, butter and Port in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the walnuts, mix. Place the paté in a serving bowl, cover with cling film and chill till ready to serve.

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