Friday, December 26, 2008

Say “Cheese”

Christmas Eve had finally arrived. It was time. Tom gathered up his nerve and bravely ventured down into the dark, scary basement to retrieve the item of so much curiosity and discussion during the past few months. We are talking, of course, about the Blue Stilton cheese that we have been aging in the downstairs refrigerator.

An annual tradition in our household during the holidays is to sit down with a wedge of English Stilton and a glass of port. Stilton is not easy to find in this country, and when you do, it is expensive. It’s a rare treat reserved for the holidays. One year, the entire wedge disappeared from its plate on the coffee table, after an unfortunate lapse in household security. That year, we discovered that Stilton is irresistible to dogs, who will cheerfully fight you for it.

It seemed silly to us to have such an abundant supply of fresh cream and milk and still buy Stilton. So, with the kind assistance of our friend, Pamela, we set out to make our own. The entire process is fairly complicated. But once the whey drains from your freshly created raw cheese, it is placed in a cool area to age and the horror begins. There are really no words to adequately describe the aging process, except to suggest that somewhere in the attic there was probably a portrait of a cheese getting younger. The molding object resembled a cheese corpse. In aging Stilton, you know you are on the right track if it smells like garbage. But you can’t be absolutely positive because garbage smells like garbage, too. Cutting into the cheese and actually eating it requires the suppression of several natural instincts that would otherwise cause you to back away, poke it with a stick or replace your entire refrigerator.

But we persevered. Armed with a knife, a box of Triscuits and a moderate amount of alcohol (for courage), we cut into our cheese and inhaled. We were rewarded with the aroma of a landfill on a hot summer’s day. But the taste was beautiful and we have, in fact, managed to produce a true Stilton. We haven’t perfected it, yet. We did not achieve the deep blue veining that a fully mature cheese should have. It probably would have benefited from aging an extra month, or from slightly higher curing temperatures. But this year, we will be sitting down to enjoy a Stilton produced on our farm, using milk from our own cows and a mold species that we actually invited.

We hope you had a Merry Christmas, too.