Stilton Cheese has been an integral part of village life in the Vale of Belvior for over two centuries, farming in the east midlands back then consisted of small farms or smallholdings with limited numbers of animals most often cows, pigs, chickens but most definitely horses.
How food reached the table even 80 years ago was vastly different to how it gets there now, food was seasonal not mass produced and had far less air miles than the food we eat today, cheese was no different with excess milk being made into cheese when available. Today supermarkets supply food from all over the world seasonality has all but gone and a large percentage of what we eat is mass produced to satisfy consumer demand, unfortunately the net result of this is a high wastage of both food and packaging.
Cheese making in the farmhouse was almost exclusively carried out by the farmer’s wife or women on the farm this would have been a means to extend the life of the milk and save wastage, there would only have been a handful of cheeses made at any one time, the starter culture would have been milk that had been left to go sour overnight, and rennet would have been dried unweaned calf stomach or a liquid made from this rennin.
Making cheese was a relatively simple job with the milk being fresh, unpasteurised and warm possibly straight from the cow, the starter culture would have been added and then the enzyme (rennin) either dipped in or poured into the started milk, the curds would set and then be cut to release whey put into a cheese cloth and tied up to drain, the curd would then develop an acidity and firm up overnight, the cheese would then be broken by hand and salt added, the salt arrests the acid development, absorbs moisture, flavors the cheese and very importantly preserves the cheese. The salted curds would be placed into a mould/hoop and left there until the curds were firm enough for the mould to be removed. I am unsure of how the blue would have developed back then but I suspect mould spores from the horses tack was in the air and would have got into the cheese. Almost all types of cheese have been discovered by trial and error or even by mistake, no doubt the Stilton cheese would have developed wherever it was being stored and as it was being eaten display differing profiles as it aged eventually the optimum maturation would be recognized and repeated.
Stilton Cheese made at Colston Bassett still follows traditional methods and all our cheese are still made by hand, the most obvious difference between farmhouse and dairy made cheese we see today is the amount of cheese being produced, there have been four Stilton Making General Dairy Managers at Colston Bassett Dairy throughout the 100 years of its history, Tom Coy, Ernest Wagstaff, Richard Rowlett and myself with Tom and Ernie having covered the first 80 odd years between them.
Today Colston Bassett Stilton Cheese is distributed worldwide; milk is produced exclusively for cheese production, and the cheese is made the whole year round, milk is a very volatile raw material and throughout the year we have various changes due to feed patterns, weather, calving, health of the herd, add to this that Stilton is a mould ripened Blue cheese and is influenced by hundreds of small factors you start to understand that we are making one of the most difficult types of British cheese that there is to make.
In 2013 Colston Bassett Dairy is celebrating its Centenary and has organized a few events, the whole village should have received a calendar which has these events clearly marked, we hope the whole village will turn out and allow us to thank everyone for their continued support.
For more information you can visit our website at www.colstonbassettdairy.com