Stilton, we hardly knew ye

One of the more delightful aspects of British culture is their determination to cling to the radio as an art form.  Long stretches behind the wheel of the car becomes a seat in a theatre or lecture hall, with the same disinclination to climb out that one has with an audio book—more so because it’s not a recording.

One of my drives across the British southland was accompanied by a long piece on Radio 4 about Stilton cheese, the EU, and the village of Stilton.

Readers of Mary Russell’s memoirs may remember that the young Miss Russell kept an alarmingly ripe piece of Stilton in her sock drawer as an undergraduate, and feared that her sudden and prolonged absence might have a disastrous effect on the wood below.  Stilton is a powerful blue cheese, one of those myriad foodstuffs that are better tasted than smelt.  On a lightly sweet biscuit or slice of apple, there is nothing better.

Rolling a Stilton on May Day

Rolling a Stilton on May Day



However, Stilton is not made in Stilton.  Stilton the village is in Cambridgeshire; Stilton the cheese, according to the officials of the European Union, is 1) a pasteurized milk cheese 2) unpressed and with blue veins that 3) comes from one of three UK counties: Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, or Leicestershire.  Not, please note, Cambridgeshire.

However, Mr Richard Landy, of Stilton (“of” in both senses) protests that Stilton was indeed originally made in Stilton.  Daniel Defoe talked about it.  And just because in the late 18th century the production of said cheese moved to Leicestershire doesn’t mean that Stilton should be banned from making their own Stilton, and calling it by the name.  Mr Landy has even found evidence of ancient cheese-making in the town, when he was out walking one day and discovered a Roman cheese press in a ditch, where presumably it had lain for 1700 years waiting for him to walk his dog.

Mr Landy is now engaged in a battle with the European Union over the very definition of a cheese, as a village rises up in age-old and rightous indignation against the foreign oppressors from Brussels.  That no one in the village currently manufactures, or even wishes to manufacture, Stilton cheese is beside the point.

Equal rights for village Stilton!

And now, take a look at the Stilton home page, and tell me that your mouth doesn’t immediately begin to water: cheese, figs—and oh my god, Stilton cheesecake!

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  1. Pat Floyd on September 24, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Marvelous! This controversy in real life mirrors the fictional problems the citizens of St. Denis, France, have with the EU over cheese and other foods in BRUNO, CHIEF OF POLICE, recommended by LRK.

  2. Donna on September 24, 2009 at 11:40 am


    Definitely worth protecting in all ways: origins, replicability (refers all the way down to the genetic level here), regional taste as well as ambience. And all because the point is just plain eating of… 🙂 Go Stilton! And may your efforts ripen into perfection; aged into results worthy of the title you seek. Let’s not let others (roquertfort, cheshire, et. al.) have all the fun.

    By the way, Greece has similar issues with Feta – they at least have made everyone who makes a “feta” cheese label it as “a Greek cheese” or “in the Greek style” or something with “Greek” on the label… 🙂

  3. Sara on September 24, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Am I still allowed to read Russell novels if I admit to not liking cheese?

    *ducks & cringes, in anticipation of a volley of ‘WHAT?!?!?’s)

  4. Strawberry Curls on September 24, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    If it helps, Sara, I will step up and admit I can’t stand the strong cheeses. Stilton just does not appeal to me. There, I’ve admitted it. Is this the first step toward redemption? Should I join some type of twelve step program?

    Frankly all the blue cheeses turn me off. Roquefort salad dressing turns my stomach, as do the big chunks of Roquefort in a Cobb salad. Hummmmm, salad sounds so good I think I’ll have to make one for dinner tonight, but no strong cheese!

  5. Donna on September 24, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    Dear VSC and Sara,

    Not all of us are made for strong stuff. Delicate sensibilities usually lead to the “finer” things in a culture; the difference say between porcelain and pottery. Ducks, you both are simply at the other end of the scale from the rest of us who dig in and enjoy the earthy. Just glad you still wish to associate with us “low-lifes”… 🙂

  6. Donna on September 24, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    By the way, SC, how was the salad? Had one too: spinach, blanched broccoli, tiny tomatoes, etc. and guess what was on it?

    Yup! 🙂

  7. Strawberry Curls on September 24, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    The salad was delicious: an interesting mixture of romaine, and some spring leaves. I added ripe tomato, a little onion, some left over chicken, and tossed with a cool cucumber ranch dressing. 🙂 Thanks for asking.

    AKA VSC (I kind of like that, Donna)

  8. Nikki on September 25, 2009 at 2:35 am

    Don’t worry about it, Alice. It’s not your fault about the cheese. You just have no Russell DNA. Yes, I am being sort of serious. One thing I love about Laurie’s books is the way she seems to have given Russell so many of the family traits of “real life” Russells. Dad’s family are all cheeseaholics. None of them have ever met a cheese they didn’t like, and the stinkier the better.

    Dad was particularly fussy about cheese and would drag us to the mountains every so often to stock up on cheese from a Swiss and German settlement called Helvetia. It’s a hole-in-the-wall village smack in the middle of nowhere in Randolph county West Virginia. There is really no reason to go there other than to buy cheese.

    Russell DNA only runs so deep, though. Caitlin hates blue cheese. Sometimes I wonder how that child can be mine… 😉

  9. Sara on September 25, 2009 at 3:34 am

    Thanks Alice- I’m so glad people aren’t throwing things at me! 😉

    I suppose I was a peculiar child- what 4 year old refuses mac-n-cheese? My mother must have been so perplexed. Sigh. It is a sore spot for my boyfriend as well, who claims that my hatred/non-liking of cheese has ‘ruined his life.’ (Overly dramatic, much?) Restaurants also pose a problem. They drown foods in cheese, or decorate salads with it, or have entire chains devoted to it (Melting Pot. *shudder*) and makes for some finagling with wait staff.

    Oh well. More for Russell, I suppose.

  10. Razor on September 25, 2009 at 8:41 am

    A friend recently went to the Azores and brought back some wonderful cheese from those beautiful islands. It was nowhere near as…fragrant…as Russell describes her Stilton, but it was tasty. It was something like Brie–just a little gooshy. Now just reading about cheese makes me crave it!

    Is strong cheese a theme of LRKs? Kate Martinelli’s daughter Nora professes a fondness for Gorgonzola. =)

    I will have to find something with cheese for luncheon now. =0

  11. Ruthie on September 25, 2009 at 8:42 am

    I’m with you Alice in not liking veined cheese; it makes me quite ill.

    The reason I write, rather to share my cheese preferences, is to admit to being one of the UK civil servants involved in introducing this law. Although Mr Landy is not too happy at present, the regulation was brought in to protect the link between certain foods and drinks and the place where they were made. Wines have been protected in this way for many years, but there was serious concern that foods – and in particular cheeses, – were loosing the link between their name and their place of production. For instance, cheddar is made in many counties of the UK as well as many countries of the world. We had to argue quite keenly to protct Stilton, given that it isn’t made in the villag of that name, but it was finally recognised that it was particular to certain villages, and that’s the way it should stay.
    Of course the protection has been found to be a poisoned chalice. A particular brewery (v large company, so don’t be too sympathetic) sought protection for one of their beers, but this protection is now hampering the brewery’s attempts to relocate.
    Good luck to Mr Landy, I say, but it’s no good coming to lobby me on this any more as I’ve long since left that job! 😉

  12. Erin on September 25, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Totally off on a tangent here, but…

    Do you think they eat that wheel of cheese after rolling it through town? Although I suppose you could always cut off that outside bit like you do the extra fuzz that develops when cheese is left in the fridge too long.

    I don’t know how I feel about Stilton cheescake. Strong cheese in a dessert sounds like it would be completely horrible…but I’d probably still give it a try 😀

  13. Ruthie on September 25, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Worry not, Erin. Stilton has a rind on it which is cut off anyway, so olefactory enjoyment will not be curtailed by fluff, grit or any other extraneous matter picked up during the course of its perambulations!


  14. La Donna on September 25, 2009 at 9:26 am

    When my mother and aunt came to visit us for a month when we lived in Derbyshire I was in charge of turning the Cheddar cheese wheel that Aunt Helen bought on the way up from London (not sure if it was really from Cheddar Gorge area). They would stay with us long enough to get clean clothes and then take off for a week sightseeing (some sort of revenge for my weekend visits home from college??). My instructions were to turn it every day (or every other day? can’t remember) and I remember wondering what the poor customs agent was going to say about that corner of her luggage. By the time it got to Dallas and the waiting Uncle Bert it was supposed to be just right/ripe … as long as La Donna remember to turn it as required. The things we do for the family!!

  15. Donna on September 25, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Ah, love this discussion!

    VSC (you do know what the V is for right?) I’m coming over… oops, Ahi on menu tonight – sorry, will have to invite you over instead. Promise not to serve the Maytag (or any other Blues in the fridge) but do have some fantastic cider (hard) that may appeal… 🙂 Ah someday huh?

    Being a C… girl I suppose you do know about Ranch Dressing… it’s invention and now world conquest as a respectable salad condiment? If not, head for the hills above Santa Barbara and check out Solvang… but then you probably have been there… and who can resist a great danish or one of those soft sweaters… 🙂

    But back to cheese – the Maytag (yup, they make appliances too) is a mild blue from the good old USA – might even appeal to those of you who dislike the strong blues but then it is still a blue cheese. And about cheddars… (First, LaDonna – that was hilarious – loved your story!) Exploring the world of Cheddar cheese became a lunchtime passion the summer I spent in Britain/Ireland so do appreciate what’s made there. However, )and maybe it’s because I live here, but honestly they are really good Cheddar cheeses), I highly recommend the Vintage White Sharp Cheddar that Tillamook does and the great mid-range Cheddar that is Cougar Gold out of WSU.

    Ruthie, right on – that’s what rinds are for and not much will spoil a good cheese! (Aren’t you glad you are “out of red tape land”? 🙂 )


  16. Strawberry Curls on September 25, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Yes, Donna, I do remember your dubbing me “Venerable Strawberry Curls” for my 2000 posts over on the VBC.

    Love.Ranch.Dressing,love Solvang and their danish, but haven’t visit for some time. As for our getting together for a meal or anything else, all things are possible. I seem to recall your mentioning Big Bear, which is only about an hour and a half drive from my So Cal. location. Just don’t bring any Maytag or Stilton. LOL

  17. Donna on September 25, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Curls, I wouldn’t! And yes, I like the beach. You coming up, me coming down – either way – will be something to look forward to. 🙂 Maybe Laurie will be back at Vromans next spring – don’t think I’ll in CA for the WH Book Fair though.

    🙂 🙂 🙂 I WAS trying to be discrete… However… (And I do love tweaking tiger tails… :)…) Also realize it’s best if the tiger is equally annoyed and finds it enjoyable… 🙂 🙂 🙂

  18. Carlina on September 27, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    If one of you could kindly capture a sample from Russell and contribute a sample from yourselves, we’ll run it to see how closely related the VBC-ers are to Russell. It can be done…we’d have to do mtDNA but it can be done…

    Nothing like Stilton…mmm…I’m actually a bit lactose intolerant, but I MUST HAVE CHEESE. I CANNOT live without it. I love any cheese you place in front of me. Heck, I even get the bacon cheeseburger with blue cheese at Wendy’s…I love me some blue cheese…I love strong rich cheeses with a bit pf prosciutto mmmmm….

  19. Mary L on September 28, 2009 at 4:47 am

    Does anyone else remember the hilarious story of the smelly cheese from “Three Men in a Boat”? I strongly recommend that tale, but only if you are NOT reading in public, as you are liable to laugh youself silly!

  20. Laurie King on September 29, 2009 at 6:41 am

    Okay, guys, I’m bringing some Stilton to the Indianapolis get-together, that’s all there is to it. Anyone else have a favorite cheese, bring it along. And if the security people object, tell them that Mycroft Holmes’ sister in law said it was okay.

  21. Laidee Marjorie on September 29, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Oh, break my heart some more, why don’t cha? A cheese party at B’con! I wish I was going, but I still think that waiting for the one next year where my favorite author is being feted (or is that feta-ed) is the right decision. But I am very sorry that I won’t be with all of you this time around.

    –Marjorie (who love muenster and most smoked cheeses)

  22. Meredith on September 30, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Cheese, hmmm. When I’d lived in Wisconsin about seven of the twelve years I spent there, I met a chap who declared that no female was the woman for him if she didn’t have cheese in her fridge at all times. It seemed a reasonable requirement at the time, though he did not become the spousal unit. Alas, news about cholesterol has since stabbed me in the back and marred my romance with all things dairy.
    I do have to confess I am not keen on the strong cheeses. But I have always been curious about Stilton & by gum I’m going to Indy and I’ll try it. The present and actual spousal unit says it’s delicious.//Meredith

  23. La Donna on October 1, 2009 at 10:15 am

    If you are planning a cheese board don’t forget the Double Gloucester (my personal favorite — and available at the Meijer stores here about), some Red Leicester (pronounced correctly, please) and maybe a little Cheshire. And we need some water biscuits, a few digestives, and cream crackers, of course. A little celery and apple. And, on a sad note, I’m probably one of the closest to Indy (2+ hours northeast) but I won’t be able to be at BoucherCon (spousal unit [as Meredith says] out of town and teenagers to be herded). Enjoy the cheese without me.

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