Tuxford & Tebbutt have been making Stilton in Melton Mowbray since 1780. The creamery is the longest surviving maker of the “King of English cheeses” and one of only six that is allowed to make Blue Stilton. It’s where we source our award-winning Extra Special Blue Stilton, which has just added a Grocer Gold to its string of awards.
Stilton is protected by PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status which means it can only be made in three counties: Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. The blue cheese takes its name from the village of Stilton, where it was made popular by the landlord of the Bell Inn who sold it to coachmen on the stagecoach route between London and the North of England. Stilton itself is in Cambridgeshire – so it's not in one of the three counties that's allowed to make the cheese that bears its name!
Graham Nichol is product quality manager at Arla, a farmer-owned co-operative, and is responsible for grading all of Arla’s cheese. His job takes him around the UK to all of Arla’s manufacturing sites including Tuxford & Tebbutt.
“It’s an impressive site because of the tradition that comes with it, along with the passion of the people in there,” said Graham. “They love Stilton! They’re true passionate Stilton cheesemakers.”
“The Stilton is handmade to the original recipe. It gets a tweak now and again as milk changes from season to season, but the principle of the recipe is there. It’s actually probably an awful lot better now than 200 years ago because of the development of quality control and the grading system. They have their own cheese grader there who’s highly skilled and selects every block of cheese that’s produced. It has to meet the standards that’s required, so there’s a lot of focus on quality.”
All the cheese produced by Arla cheesemakers is made from 100% British milk which carries the Red Tractor mark – meaning it can be traced back to the farm where it comes from.
At Tuxford & Tebbutt the Stilton is made in open vats using pasteurised milk. The cheese is salted and milled into hoops where it gets turned for around five days before being transferred to the maturing stores. The Stilton is checked regularly and takes around 10 weeks to mature.
“The penicillin-type mould is what gives it the blue veins,” said Graham. “You add it in the manufacturing process in the vat and then promote the growth of it by piercing the cheese with needles. That allows the air into the cheese and allows the mould to grow from the inside. Every cheese is different.
“I always consider my cheeses to be like a child: You have to look after it and take care of it and it will grow up right.”
Stilton is at its best if you keep it chilled but let it warm up to room temperature just before you eat it.
“Instead of cutting off a chunk, scrape a bit of the cheese,” said Graham. “That action of scraping warms up the fats and releases the flavour compounds. It will virtually spread on your cracker.”
It’s traditionally enjoyed at Christmas with a glass of port but Graham says it’s good “all-year round with a glass of IPA ale."
“It’s something we should be promoting to young people. They will go for a Roquefort or another European blue cheese. I think Stilton is a much better product because it delivers a mellowness – there’s no harshness in it when it’s spot on. Everybody’s raving about the Extra Special Stilton at the moment. Buy some and try it."