“We still rub up by hand you know, it’ very important”.
Ooo-er missus! If you want your cheese beautifully blue and veiny and salty and delicious, there’s no substitute to giving it a good rubbing up by hand.
It’s a point of pride at Cropwell Bishop creamery that they, unlike some of their competitors who have mechanised the process, still like to roll their sleeves up and get elbow deep in the curds and whey-hey!
Mr Prime and I have popped up on the train from St Pancras International Station to say hello to the Cropwell Bishop Creamery team. This smart operation remains 100% family-owned. It has been this way since 1948, when Grandpa Skailes, a food trader in London’s East End acquired the business. Quite possibly in a game of cards, so the legend goes.
Slap bang in the middle of the ancient old Vale of Belvoir, just inside the Nottinghamshire county lines in the East Midlands, the Cropwell Bishop Creamery crew have welcomed us to explain the process behind the premium stilton cheese on our menus.
The creamy, lush slab of salty delight that graces our Christmas burger is an award-winning cheese from the world’s third biggest Stilton maker. Of course, bearing in mind there are only six registered dairies that make Stilton in Nottingham, Leicestershire and Derbyshire, our mates at Cropwell Bishop Creamery are also the world’s third smallest Stilton cheese-maker too.
There’s a lively debate about the origin of this strong blue cheese. It’s named after the village of Stilton. Which is actually in Cambridgeshire, a county of East Anglia. The legend goes that a publican by the name of Cooper Thornhill, owner of the Bell Inn, stocked this matured and creamy cheese and fed it to travellers who stopped to change horses at his inn.
The cheese that became known as Stilton, after the village, was in fact made by Mr Thornhill’s sister, who worked in the kitchens of a big house in Leicester.
Whether there is any truth to the folk lore, the fact remains that Stilton is the proud bearer of the coveted Product of Designated Origin stamp, which means, unless you make it in the three midlands counties of the UK – Nottingham, Leicestershire, Derbyshire – you can’t call it Stilton. And that’s why there are only 6 dairies that make Stilton in the whole entire world.
Cheese has been made on the site of the CB Creamery since at least 1850, and the Skailes family have specialised in blue stilton since the 1970s, when the sons of Grandpa Skailes rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in.
Dan Skailes, third generation cheese maker, son of David, nephew of Ian and Grandson of Old Mr Skailes, and his Cropwell Bishop team are very, very proud of the fact that they still make cheese by hand, the old-fashioned, touchy-feely way.
And so they should be, because it tastes bloody marvellous. Creamy, buttery, salty and a bit nutty, Cropwell Bishop Stilton is a bold, stylish, flamboyant Louis XIV-style King of the cheese world.
Where some of their contemporaries in the midlands resort to efficient machines and automation, the Cropwell team turn their cheeses by hand, gather in long lines to scoop their curds from one vat to another, engage in the age-old cheese makers art of “rubbing-up” by hand, leave it to gently mould, stab it full of holes to aerate, and finally after 8 weeks of nurturing and careful turning, stroking and storing, they personally grade every single solitary cheese.
When you’re making 1,400 tonnes of cheese every year, that’s a lot of cheese to churn, scoop, turn and grade. And it’s all done under the loving and very watchful eye of Howard, Head of Cheese, who’s been with Cropwell for ever.
It’s a very hands-on process. And it is all designed to produce one of the best tasting Stilton’s in the world. Winner of many, many, Best Cheese awards.
There can be no doubt that the Cropwell Bishop Creamery make the world’s greatest Stilton. Just ask the flavour panels who convene to regularly check the quality of the output. Or check in with the half a dozen family-run farms in the Peak District who supply their milk. Or watch the tight-knit team of Stilton specialists who lovingly make the cheese the same way it has been made since old Cooper Thornhill’s sister perfected her rub.