The Village of Stilton Cheesed Off

This is an extract from an article in The Grocer magazine, by Jon Yeomans and I hope I do not get into trouble for copying and pasting it into our blog.  It is about DEFRA rejecting an application by a cheese maker to make Stilton in Stilton.  Seems both protectionist and petty to me – what do you think?

Cheesed off

Spare a thought for the good people of the village of Stilton. They’ve just been told they can’t make Stilton cheese in the place that gave it its name.

More specifically, Defra has rejected an application by The Original Cheese Company to have Stilton’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) amended to include Stilton parish. As it stands, Stilton can only be designated as such if it is made in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire – traditional producers of the marbled blue cheese. There are only seven members of the exclusive circle of Stilton producers – Hartingdon, based in Derbyshire, was added to the group just last week.

The Original Cheese Company, which produces cheese in the Stilton method, argues that it is now widely agreed that Stilton began life in the village of that name in the 18th century, before shifting production to the East Midlands later that century.

However, as the Stilton Cheesemakers’ Association admits: “There has always been a degree of uncertainty about the evolution of Stilton cheese.” Travellers of the early 18th century remarked upon Stilton’s cheese – though whether it was the blue variety that we know and love today is unclear. Sometime around the mid-18th century, the landlord of the Bell Inn started selling the cheese – an enterprise that proved so successful he had to outsource production to Leicestershire, thus sparking the cheese’s flight from its hometown.

The present-day villagers of Stilton may have grounds to feel somewhat aggrieved with Defra’s decision – after all, what is a designation of origin if not the name of the place that invented the product? Champagne, after all, is still tied to Champagne, and Cornish pasties have to be made in Cornwall.

The flipside of the argument is that PDOs are there to protect producers who have spent many years, if not centuries, building a market for a specific product. Why should the cheesemakers of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire be exposed to competition from Stilton if Stilton long ago ceded production to others? And a Stilton cheese from Stilton would enjoy a not-inconsiderable advantage in marketing itself as the only Stilton cheese made in the village.

The Original Cheese Company says it could still market its cheese as ‘Stilton’s Village Blue’, though I reckon they’d be very lucky to get that far. Witness the case of Quorn’s ‘Cornish-style’ pasty, which was forced to change its name last year. Defra’s message seems to be clear: for Stilton, it’s hard cheese.

Jon Yeomans

Comments 5

  1. The good news is that Stichelton Dairy’s application to bring back raw milk Stilton has not been rejected and is still being considered. This is by far and away more important than the geographical denomination for pasteurised Stilton?

    1. Post

      Hi Gerry

      Thanks for your comment. I am not entirely sure I agree with you; Stichelton is a fine cheese and has carved out a notable niche for itself as being a raw milk blue cheese. It seems that it is an anomaly as to why Stilton cannot be made from raw milk, back in 1994, info I garnered from your website. Will the work of Stilton makers be improved by being allowed to be made from raw milk? I do not know, but I do know that Stichelton already has a loyal following and I am told that there are other raw milk blue cheeses around. There is already a substantial and thriving market for the 7 Blue Stilton makers.

      That a cheese maker in Cambridgeshire, more specifically, in the original village of Stilton is not allowed to call its cheese Stilton because it is not in Leicestershire, Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire seems arbitrary at best and petty at worst – to me, that is.

      With best wishes and please do not take my reply as a rebuttal of your view, this is just my view, each to their own opinion!


  2. Hello Iona

    I’m happy to leave those more expert in history than I to argue whether the village of Stilton should be included. I can see there could be sound arguments either way. I do think it a shame that the application was rejected on a technicality and not on a consideration of the merits of the case.

    My point is Stichelton should not be a niche blue cheese, in truth it is the only authentic Stilton not permitted to use the name. Colston Bassett dairy ceased production of raw milk Stilton in 1989 and was the last producer of authentic Stilton. The PDO was agreed in 1994 when only pasteurised Stilton was made so the product specification states only pasteurised milk may be used. Stichelton came along after and, being made from raw milk, can’t be called Stilton. Full story is here:

    My concern is for the heritage of Stilton cheese more than the people who make it.


    PS Love your cheeses, enjoyed them for many years!

    1. Post

      HI Gerry

      Am glad you like our cheese and thanks for your follow up comment. And I totally get your point that your concern lies more with the heritage of Stilton than mine which lies with the businesses.

      With best wishes


  3. The facts prove that STILTON CHEESE originated in the village of STILTON.
    Because the SCMA ‘stole’ our name does not legitimate their production.
    Liam McGivern
    The Bell Inn

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