Friday, May 17, 2013

#31 Stichelton

While we were working at Neal's Yard Dairy at the end of last year, we were invited to a number of staff cheese tastings where we met with NYD suppliers, tasted their cheeses, and heard what drove them to create their unique cheeses.  We were lucky enough to attend a session with Joe Schneider, who makes Stichelton - one of the stars at NYD.

Stichelton is a blue cheese made from unpasteurised, organic milk from the Collingthwaite Farm on the Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire.

Many people have said that Stichelton is "a raw milk Stilton" but this is not strictly true - first of all Stilton cannot be made using unpasteurised milk according to it's PDO designation.  Stichelton is a cheese in it's own right.  Although the original recipe was based on traditional methods used to make Stilton long before it's PDO status was granted, the current process will have been tweaked and modified to create the best product possible at the Collingthwaite Farm factory.  For example, traditional calf rennet is used and the curd is hand ladled from the vat to the draining table, but instead of piercing the cheeses by hand they are pierced by machines to ensure more uniform ripening and distribution of blueing.  It could be said that Stichelton gives one an idea of what a Stilton could be like if it was still made using the old traditional methods before pasteurisation was common.  Interestingly, the only Stilton that is still made using the traditional hand ladling technique is made specifically for Neal's Yard Dairy, to meet their high standards.

A good Stichelton has an orange/golden/brown crust that is not too dry, with a creamy smooth mouthfeel, even blueing throughout the paste, and loads of flavour.  The flavour can be slightly sweet with savoury notes, and some aromatic blue flavours.  Many more slight variations in flavour can be seen between different batches or individual rounds of the cheese.

Stichelton we took home from the tasting session, and then devoured.

The tasting session was set up as a blind tasting.  We tasted 8 cheeses in two groups of four, with nothing to identify them (except our expertise - many of the cheesemongers attending were able to identify the cheeses sold by NYD).  The cheese samples included Stilton purchased at supermarkets (made with vegetarian rennet), Colston Basset Stilton from NYD, and samples of Stichelton.

Whilst a lot of variation can be expected when tasting these types of small volume blue cheeses, everyone agreed that the supermarket Stiltons were below the level of the Stilton and Stichelton made using traditional methods.  Part of this is due to the extra care and handling the cheeses receive through a proper cheesemonger.  Partly it is due to the cheese makers and their attention to detail to make the best cheese possible for a customer with high demands.  Opinion varied between those of us at the tasting session about which sample was best out of a couple of Sticheltons and the traditional  Colston Basset Stilton. Some pieces of cheese tasted slightly different due to difference amounts of blueing, some people have different preferences or can detect tastes (e.g.bitterness) more or less strongly than others.  Nevertheless, we were picking fine details between some very delicious cheeses!

Some people claim they prefer Stichelton over Stilton purely because it is made with unpasteurised milk.  In my opinion, Stichelton is not automatically better than Stilton, but it has the potential to be better because of the unpasteurised milk and the careful cheesemaking methods used.  Because of variability caused by many things, sometimes a traditional Colston Basset Stilton is going to be better, but when Joe and the team get it right the resulting Stichelton has a complexity and flavour that the Stilton will probably not achieve.   The best way to make sure you get the best cheese is to buy it from a cheesemonger, who knows how to look after the cheese properly and will hopefully have selected the batch to meet their standards.
Stichelton maturing on the shelves at Neal's Yard Dairy's Bermondsey maturing facility. 

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