Slow Food Blog by Shane Holland: The fight to get cheeses renamed

The Staff Canteen

When is a historic cheese not allowed to use it’s historic name? When bizarrely it’s protected by a PDO designed to preserve heritage.

Last month I wrote about PDO products (Also known as protected food names), and I return to the theme again this month to talk cheese.

PDOs are a great guarantee that the product bought is from a particular area, and helping preserve skills and heritage which might otherwise be lost – it is if you will an authenticity stamp, and one that consumers understand, and when done well such as with the Lakeland Herdwick Lamb genuinely protects the livelihoods of small farmers, and preserves our countryside.

Yet the UK is fairly unique in all of Europe for having a PDO which does not allow the historic method of production, and that PDO is for Stilton. Stilton must use pasteurised milk according to it’s PDO, yet pasteurisation came more than a century after the cheese was being produced.

Joe Schneider produces a blue cheese made with unpasteurised milk. I am legally forbidden for saying it’s like Stilton – and I am happy not to, Stichelton (Joe’s cheese) is far tastier. But it is made in a process which is near identical, but using unpasteurised milk.

Many of our great cheeses use unpasteurised milk from Parmesan to Roquefort, Kirkham’s Lancashire to Keen’s Cheddar all perfectly safely. So Schneider asked the Stilton Cheesemakers Association to amend the PDO to allow unpasteurised milk, and have the historic method admitted.

They refused. However, the same Association allow the inclusion of cranberries, and even ginger and apricots. Yet a small handcrafted cheese, made with unpasteurised milk may not legally be called Stilton.

This David v Goliath battle is important (Goliath in the shape of Stilton makers, including Arla, who as well as being a producer of Stilton on a vast scale, also manufacture the very non-PDO Lurpack Extra Light and other “dairy” products) because at it’s heart is our food heritage and our traditions.

The word Traditional is another sticking point because traditional has a legal definition of being a period of twenty-five years or more – so Stilton has traditionally been made with pasteurised milk; but so too have the dairy-like products that was advertised on TV when we were watching the last season of Dallas back in 1991. In fact, the leading brands of a whole slew of industrially made products are traditionally made according to the law.

Slow Food is leading the fightback against this, we are supporting Joe, and so can you, by signing our petition calling on the Stilton Cheesemakers Association to allow his Cheese to be called Stilton.

We’re also highlighting to consumers, why the traditional quality ingredients which quality restaurants use are important, and why they should eat at establishments that use them. We also provide a service to the trade to help you find ingredients which are historic (that’s genuinely traditional!) and help preserve our heritage.

Finally, we have a Chef Alliance – a network of Chefs who have committed to cooking in this way.  Do contact me for further information and how you can be part of the food fightback.

Shane Holland is the Executive Chairman of Slow Food in the UK  [email protected]

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th May 2016

Slow Food Blog by Shane Holland: The fight to get cheeses renamed