Are you a cheese lover who also happens to be a vegetarian?
If so, you may be wondering if your favorite blue cheese, Stilton, is suitable for your diet. While some traditional European blues contain animal rennet, there are vegetarian options available.
In this article, we’ll explore the world of blue Stilton cheese and answer the question: Is it vegetarian?
Join us as we delve into the history, production, and ingredients of this beloved cheese to find out if it’s a suitable addition to your vegetarian diet.
Is Blue Stilton Cheese Vegetarian?
The answer to this question is yes, blue Stilton cheese can be vegetarian. While some dairies produce a traditional rennet version of Stilton, the majority of Stilton cheese is made using vegetarian rennet.
Vegetarian rennet is a coagulating agent used in cheese-making that is derived from microbial or plant sources, rather than animal stomachs. This means that cheeses made with vegetarian rennet are suitable for vegetarians.
Cropwell Bishop Blue Stilton, for example, is made using vegetarian rennet and is suitable for vegetarians. This cheese is handmade using methods that have changed little since the 17th century and is aged for 12 weeks to develop its unique flavor. It has a rich and tangy flavor, a velvety-soft texture, and a crumbly yet firm consistency.
Other vegetarian alternatives to traditional European blues include Italian Dolcelatte and British cheeses such as Cashel Blue, Dorset Blue Vinny, and Beauvale.
It’s important to note that not all blue cheeses are vegetarian. Traditional Roqueforts and all Gorgonzola cheeses contain animal rennet and are not suitable for vegetarians. Parmesan cheese also contains animal rennet and is not vegetarian.
The History Of Blue Stilton Cheese
Blue Stilton cheese has a long and interesting history, dating back to the 18th century. The first Englishman to sell Stilton cheese was Cooper Thornhill, the owner of the Bell Inn at Stilton, Huntingdonshire. In 1730, Cooper discovered a certain blue cheese while visiting a nearby farm. He fell in love with this particular blue cheese and bought the rights to it so that his inn could sell the cheese.
His inn was a busy and popular establishment along one of the main trade routes, so his Stilton soon spread out around England and sales boomed. However, even before that, the town of Stilton was well-known for its cheese, even though back then it was called English Parmesan. English writer Daniel Defoe wrote about the town of Stilton and the well-known cheese in 1724.
In 1936, the cheese makers’ association regulated the Stilton cheese standards to protect the authentic cheese, and that is why the guidelines right now are so strict. The Stilton cheese is the only English cheese which is protected in this way, and with good reason!
Today, Blue Stilton cheese is produced in two varieties: Blue, which has Penicillium roqueforti added to generate a characteristic smell and taste, and White, which does not. Both have been granted the status of a protected designation of origin (PDO) by the European Commission, requiring that only such cheese produced in the three counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire may be called Stilton. The cheese takes its name from the village of Stilton, now in Cambridgeshire, where it has long been sold.
Blue Stilton cheese is made from locally produced pasteurised cow milk. It is made in a cylindrical shape and allowed to form its own coat or crust. The distinctive feature of this cheese is magical blue veins radiating from the centre of the cheese. Traditionally, this cheese has been paired with sherry and port wine. It is also a good choice to go with walnuts, crackers, biscuits and bread.
The recipe for Blue Stilton has changed slightly over time but it remains a prized cheese. Blue Stilton is one of the few cheeses to carry a Protected Designation of Origin Certification, meaning it can only be called Stilton if it’s made to a special recipe from local milk in three counties in England; Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire. There are now only six cheesemakers in the world licensed to make Stilton. This young Stilton is usually eaten at around 10 weeks old. Its unique appearance, with magical blue veins radiating from the centre, is matched by its rich tangy flavour and smooth texture – certainly earning its title as the King of Cheese!
How Blue Stilton Cheese Is Made
Blue Stilton cheese is made using locally sourced, fresh cow’s milk and vegetarian rennet. The milk is heated and then cooled to a specific temperature before the starter culture is added. This culture helps to acidify the milk and create the distinctive flavor of the cheese.
Once the milk has been acidified, rennet is added to coagulate the milk into curds and whey. The curds are then cut into small pieces and stirred to release more whey. The curds are then transferred into molds and left to drain for several hours.
After draining, the cheese is removed from the molds and placed in a room with a controlled temperature and humidity. Here, the cheese is left to mature for up to 12 weeks, during which time it develops its unique flavor and texture.
During the maturation process, the cheese is pierced with stainless steel needles to encourage the growth of blue mold spores. This is what gives Blue Stilton its characteristic blue veins.
Once matured, the cheese is ready to be enjoyed. It should be stored in the fridge and brought up to room temperature before eating. Once opened, the cut surface of the cheese should be covered with cling film to prevent it from drying out.
Traditional Ingredients Vs. Vegetarian Options
When it comes to cheese-making, the coagulating agent used to separate milk into solid curds is a crucial ingredient. Traditional cheeses like Parmesan, Roquefort, and Gorgonzola use animal rennet, which is obtained from the stomachs of ruminant animals like cows and goats. This means that these cheeses are not suitable for vegetarians.
However, there are vegetarian alternatives to traditional cheeses. Vegetarian rennet is a coagulating agent that is derived from microbial or plant sources, making it a suitable option for vegetarians. Cheeses made with vegetarian rennet include Cropwell Bishop Blue Stilton, Italian Dolcelatte, and British cheeses like Cashel Blue, Dorset Blue Vinny, and Beauvale.
It’s important to note that not all blue cheeses are vegetarian. While Stilton cheese is usually made with vegetarian rennet, some dairies still produce a traditional rennet version. On the other hand, traditional Roqueforts and all Gorgonzola cheeses contain animal rennet and are not suitable for vegetarians. Therefore, it’s important to check the label carefully before purchasing any blue cheese to ensure it aligns with your dietary needs.
Animal Rennet In Cheese Production
Rennet is an enzyme that aids in coagulating (thickening) milk during the cheese-making process, resulting in the formation of curds. Traditionally, rennet has been obtained from the stomach lining of young calves, ewes, or baby goats. This type of rennet is known as animal rennet and is not suitable for vegetarians as it comes from slaughtered animals.
However, there are several alternative rennets available that are acceptable to vegetarians. These include vegetable rennet, microbial rennet, and fermentation-produced chymosin. Vegetable rennet is derived from plants and is acceptable to vegetarians. It is most commonly used in Spanish and Portuguese cheeses where cardoon thistle is used to coagulate the milk.
Microbial rennet is derived from microbes in fungus and yeast. It is unpredictable and can produce unwanted flavors such as bitterness, so it is not widely used in cheese-making.
Fermentation-produced chymosin is made from calf or synthesized genes and is estimated to be used in roughly 90% of commercially produced cheese made in the United States. Its acceptability to the vegetarian community depends on how the chymosin production was originally launched.
It’s important to note that cheeses made using animal rennet are not vegetarian. Cheeses containing animal rennet will almost always say one of the following on the ingredient list: “rennet,” “animal enzymes,” or simply “enzymes.” Cheeses made with vegetarian rennet are suitable for vegetarians.
Vegetarian-Friendly Blue Stilton Brands
If you’re looking for vegetarian-friendly options for blue Stilton cheese, there are several brands to choose from. One of the best options is Colston Bassett Dairy’s Stilton Blue cheese, which is firm but creamy and full of flavor. This cheese is creamy, full of flavor without being overpowering, and is a true blue of the cheese world. It’s made using vegetarian rennet and is suitable for vegetarians.
Another great option is Cropwell Bishop Blue Stilton, which is also made using vegetarian rennet. This cheese is aged for 12 weeks to develop its unique flavor and has a rich and tangy taste with a velvety-soft texture. It has a crumbly yet firm consistency and is perfect with fresh, crusty bread or paired with drinks such as Port or Claret.
When looking for vegetarian-friendly blue Stilton cheese, it’s important to check the ingredients list and look for cheeses made with vegetarian rennet. Some dairies may produce traditional rennet versions of Stilton, which are not suitable for vegetarians.