In 1720, Elizabeth Scarbrow made history. A housekeeper at Quenby Hall in central England, she learned to make the local cheese, then improved upon it by devising a unique triple-curd production process.
The Scarbrow family (Elizabeth would later teach her daughter the tricky method) became prosperous, selling copious amounts of what was first called “Lady Beaumont’s Cheese.” It got its current name from its first retailer, the Red Bell Inn, a busy coach house in Stilton.
Ironically, it has never really been made in the town itself. Rather, it’s produced in the rolling hills of nearby Leicestershire. The underlying soil in those hills is chock full of iron and coal deposits. That affects the taste of the milk cows produce from its grasses, which may, in turn, be partly responsible for Stilton’s coloring.
The cheese is among the most glorious blue varieties, rightfully compared to Roquefort. It’s creamy, sweet, and layered in flavors. The texture is crumbly, yet moist. It is made from pasteurized, whole milk. It is ripened for at least six months, but is often aged longer for depth.
Stilton is the only British cheese made under name-controlled regulations, but that’s not always a guarantee of perfection. (Unlike in, say, France, the U.K. rules are only modestly strict.) The best versions have a rough brown rind that envelopes a creamy paste. The veins should be plentiful, bursting, and scattered uniformly throughout.
PAIRINGS: A big, robust Stilton is perfect as dessert, with a glass of port or a sweet, imperial stout (try the Brooklyn Brewery’s Chocolate Stout). Always show Stilton off, as a centerpiece on a cheese board or prominently in a salad.