A Local Story: The History of Stilton

The world is fascinated with Stilton cheese. This magnificently pungent curd is a symbol of the strength of great cheesemaking, how it can transcend borders and bring joy to tastebuds in any region of the world. But its history is not exactly what it may seem, and it’s a tale of many surprises and a community effort to preserve its greatness. Cut a slice of blue for yourself and enjoy this centuries-old tale of how Stilton became one of the world’s most desired blue cheeses.

How Stilton Became a British Icon

Our journey begins in the early 18th century, and with an immediate bombshell. Stilton has never actually been made in the village of Stilton, Cambridgeshire, but was sold in the village’s coaching inns. The cheese was actually made and matured in neighbouring counties Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. But in coaching inns such as the Bell Inn, merchants sold a cheese unlike any other.

As history becomes less clear the further back one goes, the origin of Stilton is hazy. The most agreed-upon story is that the recipe was passed down through the Beaumont family of Quenby Hall, near Wymondham in Leicestershire, about one hour west of Stilton. In fact, for a while, Stilton was known by another name: Lady Beaumont's Cheese.

Made with the rich milk of Shorthorn cows (a tradition some producers uphold to this day), Stilton boasted an intense flavour, a depth of saltiness that rivalled French Roquefort. But inside, Stilton dazzled with its streaks of bluish-green veins, the result of cultivating Penicillium roqueforti mould as it matured. Aged for months, this transformation imbued the cheese with a complexity that had tongues wagging.

The key to Stilton's early success lies in a fortuitous twist of fate. Because the Great North Road - the main road connecting London and Edinburgh before the 20th century - passed through Stilton, word of mouth spread rapidly and the village soon became the central market for the cheese, with thousands of rounds sold every week.

In 1776, Beatrix Farrand and Eliza Webber published A New Display of the Beauties of England, in which they wrote about “a cheese made at a village called Stilton near Yaxley; known by the name of Stilton cheese, is usually stiled the Parmesan of England.” Given how highly Parseman cheese is held in Italy, it shows just how much of a runaway success Stilton had become.

Protecting Stilton

As Stilton grew ever popular, the sanctity of the cheese was feared to be becoming lost amongst the locals. In 1936, the Stilton Cheese Makers' Association was born with the mission to help safeguard the quality and protect the Stilton name. Their efforts culminated in 1996 when Stilton was awarded the prestigious European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. This meant that only cheese produced in three specific English counties – Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Leicestershire – could bear the hallowed name "Stilton." Ironically, the village of Stilton itself finds itself outside this designated zone.

Today, the region is home to many inventive varieties that live up to the name. Take Cropwell Bishop Stilton, a classic, melt-in-your-mouth affair that ends with a fizzing tang. But the magic of Stilton transcends geographical boundaries. It's a cheese steeped in tradition, a testament to the enduring power of artisanal methods. It's a story of passionate individuals coming together to protect a legacy, ensuring that future generations can experience the same delight that captivated travellers centuries ago. So, the next time you savour a slice of Stilton, take a moment to appreciate the rich tapestry woven into its deep blue veins.

Is Stilton Cheese Good for You?

In the 19th century, a saying travelled around the local area: "Drink a pot of ale, eat a scoop of Stilton every day, you will make old bones". It showed just how people thought of Silton as a healthy, live-preserving food. Then again, the saying also says the same of ale, so how healthy is Stilton cheese really?

Like all cheeses, Stilton is abundant in calcium and protein, which is shown to help with managing obesity, cardiovascular health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis. However, Stilton is very high in salt and fat without many dense nutrients, so the best way to eat it is in moderation.

Ageing intensifies cheese flavours, using cheese mites that feed on the cheese's surface. These mites break down proteins and fats, releasing complex flavours and aromas unique to each cheese. The mould on cheeses like blue cheese contributes to their potent flavours, creating their distinguished blue veins.

Discover Flavoursome Stiltons and More with Rennet and Rind

If you’re interested in unearthing new Stiltons, blues, hard cheeses and more, then Rennet and Rind is the perfect home for your love of artisan cheese. We showcase the finest in British cheesemaking, boasting a carefully selected range of award-winning artisan cheeses that allows you to support and celebrate local cheesemakers. Start your exploration of the UK’s finest blue cheeses at Rennet and Rind, where tradition collides with bold new ideas.

Perry James Wakeman

Head Cheesemonger of Rennet & Rind. Qualified MonS Affineur, World Cheese Awards Judge and Patron/Trainer of The Academy of Cheese.

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