26 April 2011
Last updated at 09:56
Long Clawson Dairy is celebrating 100 years of Stilton cheese-making near Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. The award-winning dairy is one of only six in the world, all located within Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, officially licensed to produce Blue Stilton.
The dairy was founded in 1911 when a co-operative was formed by 12 farmers from the Vale of Belvoir, who wished to improve the return for their milk. John Collishaw is the current chairman of Long Clawson cooperative, which now includes more than 40 farms each producing between 350,000 and four million litres of milk a year.
"I get a great deal of satisfaction from being able to produce the milk here on the farm and also to be able to see the cheese out on the supermarket shelves," Mr Collishaw said. "So you can see the whole product right from the cow, right through to the supermarket. I think that’s very important."
It takes around 80 litres of milk to create one Stilton cheese. Much of this ends up as whey, which is processed to be used as a by-product elsewhere in the food industry, such as sports drinks, and to be spread on farmland.
Milk, a starter culture of bacteria and rennet is mixed in vats, which separate the solid curd from the liquid whey. The pictured vat holds Leicestershire Red cheese. A full-sized 20,000-litre vat can produce around 250 cheeses a time. Once drained, the curd is cut into blocks, milled, salted and placed into cylindrical cheese hoops.
The cheese is regularly turned to evenly distribute the curd and drain away the remaining whey. After five days it is removed from the hoops and wrapped in film for support. After six weeks it is pierced, to allow air to activate the blue cheese mould, and then left for a further one to five weeks.
Production manager Steve Smith said: "Years ago, they used to allow the cheese to mature for much longer, in fact lots of people used to prefer the cheese when maggots were crawling out of it. Now we wouldn’t consider that these days, but that was the norm back then."
Mr Smith added: "Someone from 100 years [ago] would essentially recognise the [Stilton-making] system. All we've done is automated the process slightly. But the ingredients, the milk, everything else hasn’t changed. It tastes more or less the same."
As well as Stilton, which is protected by a Protected Designation of Origin, the dairy makes more than 30 other cheese products – including Leicestershire Red and Blue Shropshire. These are made across three sites - in Long Clawson, Bottesford and Harby - and sold by local, national and international retailers.
In January, the dairy welcomed a royal visit from the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. Prince Charles opened the dairy's Harby site in January 1985. Centenary celebrations will continue throughout the year.