So I was originally scheduled to work the retail shop at Covent Garden today, but the opportunity to visit Colston Bassett Stilton arose, and when CBS calls, you answer. The actual intent of the trip was to visit Quenby Hall Stilton and hand select 55 young Stiltons to be shipped to the United States (they must be picked young because there is a 6 week gap from when the leave the farm and when they reach the U.S. retailer) as well as 60 more mature stiltons for immediate retail purposes. It is a good thing I arrived hungry. In finding 115 stiltons to buy, we tasted nearly 200, an estimated 2 pounds of stilton for both Jason and myself. Along the way, Jason explained to me what he is looking for in a young stilton: not overly blue, not gummy or too creamy in texture, demonstrating a slightly curdy flavor and just a bit of salt. By the end, I was accurately predicting which Jason would take and which he would reject. A very fun process to be a part of.
After Quenby Hall, we headed for Colston Bassett, who, as it turns out, makes Stilton every day of the year with the exception to two weeks in March, and, of course, we were right in the middle of those weeks. Nevertheless, we were given a private tour of all the rooms and tasted several cheeses at different ages off the shelf. Our guide explained how they make two stiltons, one for Neal’s Yard (hence DiBruno Brothers) made with animal rennet, and the other for a less demanding population, made from vegetable rennet. “Yours, Hunter, we call the ‘Standard,’” I was told. “We call everyone else’s ‘ordinary.’” Upon request, he let me try the vegetable rennet stilton, which was still pretty good. A bit of a vegetal bitterness in the finish (which is desired), but still better than anything you would find in the Supermarket. Regardless, it was lacking compared to the animal rennet, which is superbly textured, melts away on your tongue with a hint of chocolate…absolutely sublime.
On our way back to London, Jason and I coordinated an event on the first Friday in July which will pair regional beers and cheeses of England. It is not yet 100% settled, but it is looking very good. Check our calendar for any updates.