Food by VICE

This Is What Happens When an American Makes a Traditional English Blue Cheese

A victim of industrialization and pasteurization, Stilton is no longer the amazing blue cheese it once was. Luckily, however, an American and a Brit got together and decided to revive this traditional cheese, and the Stichelton was born.

by Charlotte Kamin
Apr 1 2015, 3:29pm

Photo by Janelle Jones.

Remember when candy bars were made with real chocolate? Blended together with genuine cocoa beans, actual sugar, and full-cream milk? Remember when hamburgers were comprised of 100-percent healthy beef, not filled with pink slime, starchy fillers, antibiotics, and water? Milk used to be the vitamin-rich liquid gold yielded from from swollen udders, not this strange substance that has been boiled clean and bleached down to nothingness. Fruit was the color it grew to become, not enhanced with ultraviolet rays or special gases. Remember when cheese used to be made by hand, from unaltered, raw milk, filled with the rich nutrients and flavors of whatever the animals were actually eating?

Food has changed a lot in the last hundred years. Fear of diseases and the industrialization of all things marketable sure has done wonders for flavor and quality. Governments got involved to regulate, name-protect, and stamp brands on things, becoming sponsors for big companies with big pockets. Gotta love the mighty dollar—unless you don't, in which case you really need to try Stichelton cheese.

Once upon a time, in a magical shire of England, there was an amazing blue cheese named Stilton. Stilton was a farmhouse cheese, made by hand from raw milk. The slow-and-steady method designed by the women of the village takes all day, with lots of downtime between steps so that a cheesemaker could run off and feed the animals, clean the kitchen, tend to the children, and do all of the other dozen tasks required of a bad-ass lady of the land. After inoculating the milk with enzyme and rennet, she'd dip out for an hour or two so that the curd had time to set. After coming back and cutting the curd by hand, she'd then leave it again for a few hours so the acidity levels adjusted to her desires, and the freshly cut curd would stiffen a bit more.

Once most of the whey was drained off, she would then hand-ladle the soupy curd and residual whey into a draining table to sit out overnight. And that was just half of it. The next day, she'd cut little bricks of the firmed curd and then mill it down, mix in some salt, and then pour it into a mould to form the cheese. After a few days of chilling and flipping, the wheels would be pierced with long, hollow needles to create air passages for the blue molds to grow into the cheese, after being left to ripen in a cool, dank, bacteria-filled home.

All of this was known as Stilton cheese, the most famous English blue cheese around. Back in the 90s, a food poisoning outbreak was thought to have been linked to the use of raw milk, and the government was like, "Hell no. That shit needs to be made from pasteurized milk, and now we're gonna name-protect this cheese. So, if you wanna call your shit Stilton, you need to pasteurize that shit, too." (Just read that to yourself in a more posh-sounding British accent).

One day, Joe Schneider—a humble feta-maker from Syracuse, NY—and Randolph Hodgson of Neal's Yard Dairy were sitting around and getting pissed off pints, reminiscing about the way Stilton used to be. These two drunk friends were like, "Woo, I got an idea. We should hella make Stilton the old-school way with raw milk." (Except more prim-sounding.) Fast-forward through a few years of super-labor-intensive trial-and-error shit, and then Stichelton was born, a blue cheese that tastes as the famed Stilton was once intended to. Varying in flavor depending on the time of year, mood in the air, and what the cows were thinking the morning they were milked, Stichelton can range from citrusy and bright—with hints of tart raspberry and pockets of soil and dirt—to super-brothy and eggy, like a big bowl of duck ramen.

Stichelton is a genuine masterpiece that not only unites the Americans and the English, but also goes really well with brown ales. Lots of brown ales.