Stilton, one of Britain’s oldest and noblest cheeses, is currently produced by six large cheese producers who blend milk from a number of farms and produce over one million rounds per year. The raw milk version of Stilton, on the other hand, is produced by just one cheesemaker, Joe Schneider, who only uses milk from his own herd of cows.
However, Joe Schneider’s raw milk Stilton cannot be given PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status and cannot be called Stilton, since the PDO production protocol, drawn up in 1996 by the Stilton Cheese Makers Association, requires the use of pasteurized milk. For this reason, Joe’s raw milk Stilton now appears on the market as “Stichelton”, the earliest-recorded name of the village of Stilton.
Slow Food has launched a petition and decided to create a Presidium for the defense of the traditional production of raw milk Stilton. The aim is to support Schneider’s request to the consortium of cheesemakers and to the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to alter the production protocol, allowing cheesemakers using raw milk to enter the PDO scheme.
“There’s no one left producing raw milk Stilton” says Schneider. “I’m fully aware that it’s the large-scale producers who prop up the national economy, but I find it alarming that politicians are only concerned about protecting the interests of big business without a thought for small-scale producers. The PDO belongs to the people of Britain and of Europe, not to the big corporations.”
Join Slow Food in supporting Joe Schneider’s battle to save Stilton, by signing the petition to modify the production protocol, which will be presented to the Stilton Cheese Makers Association, and to the UK’s Minister of State for Agriculture and Food (DEFRA).
Shane Holland, Executive Chairman of Slow Food in the UK, affirmed: “It is crucial to allow raw milk to be included into an amended Stilton PDO, to allow the expression of a cheese that would have been made in such a way for centuries to exist. By restricting traditional methods and recipes we lose part of our agricultural and culinary heritage – and we become poorer because of that”.
Piero Sardo, President of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity: “On the one hand, there are people who argue that the industrial process guarantees hygiene, low prices, wide product availability and consistent flavor. On the other, there are those who claim that this system has caused a demeaning homogenization of taste, a loss of animal biodiversity and a dramatic disappearance of traditional skills. There is nothing ‘living’ left in pasteurized milk, and to turn it into cheese you must add enzymes, otherwise the rennet won’t act. Over the last few years, in a few countries, a widespread awareness has formed among discerning consumers of the social and cultural value of raw milk cheese.”
The United Kingdom is the country that most insists upon the use of pasteurized milk in its PDO production protocols (in proportion to the total number of its PDO products): 5 of Britain’s 10 PDO cheeses require the use of pasteurized milk, while 4 PDOs allow both techniques (raw milk or pasteurized) and just 1 requires unpasteurized milk, the Bonchester Cheese. It’s a strategy that goes against the trend whereby the countries keenest to promote their dairy heritage—France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland—require the use raw milk in the most part of their PDO cheeses.
Slow Food has been fighting for years in defense of raw milk and has launched more than 80 Presidia to promote traditional raw milk cheeses, many of which are also protected by PDO status. In many cases, Presidium and PDOs live side by side, peacefully and profitably. Two examples are Emmentaler in Switzerland and Piacentinu Ennese in Sicily.
If we analyze the state of European PDOs, we realize that 39% of PDO production protocols oblige producers to use raw milk and only 8% require pasteurization. However, there’s also a ‘black hole’ of 53% of cheeses without specific indications regarding the heat treatment of milk. It’s easy to see how this ambiguity throws the doors open to industrial production with pasteurized milk and selected enzymes.