Production at the dairy began in 1913 following the idea of the local doctor William Windley who whilst on his rounds he encouraged local farmers to raise capital to build a dairy. £1000 was raised and soon production began after a parcel of land was purchased from the local squire and the Colston Bassett Dairy was built.
The first cheeses to be produced were hard-pressed cheddar style cheeses as with a war on it was thought that Stilton cheese was over indulgent by the War Offices. In 1920 the dairy started to produce Stilton but again it was stopped at the outbreak of the Second World War and the hard-pressed cheddars were the norm.
Gradually by the 1950s, Stilton was being produced again and that tradition continues to the present day.
After arriving daily from local farms within a 1.5-mile radius of the dairy the milk is pasteurised to kill harmful bacteria, then cooled before going into the cheese vats. Once in the vat, starter and blue mould culture (Penicillium Roqueforti) are added, then rennet is added in order to set the milk.
After setting, the curd is cut up. The cut curds then settle to the bottom of the vat and the whey separates to the top. In the afternoon the whey is drained off leaving an exposed mat of curd. This is then ladled by hand from the vats into curd trays at the side.
Here it remains until the following morning when it is milled, salted, mixed thoroughly by hand, and placed into hoops (or cheese moulds). The process thus far has taken 24 hours. The curd then drains in the hoop under its own weight for 5 days.
The hoops are turned over daily to facilitate drainage and ensure that the moisture runs through the cheese rather than collect at the bottom.
In the maturing stores, the cheeses are turned regularly until they are sold. As the cheese age, they are pierced using a piercing machine. This pushes stainless steel needles into the cheese all around its circumference.
Once the air enters the holes, the Penicillium Roqueforti, which has thus far been dormant, can now start to grow, forming the typical veins associated with Stilton cheese.
After maturing every cheese is grading prior to sale. A cheese iron is used to bore into the cheese and remove a core of cheese, which can be assessed for level of blue veining; smell and most importantly the flavour can be checked. This is done to every cheese because only when a cheese reaches the required standard can it be called Stilton cheese.
Stilton to be classed as a true Stilton must be made within the three countries of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire and it must be made with pasteurised milk and vegetarian rennet. It gains its name from the village of Stilton on The Great North Road where it was made and traded from The Bell Inn, a coaching tavern widely used by travellers.
Its taste is slightly spicy and sweet with a creamy undertone and long-lasting flavour. A particular favourite at Christmas time it is perfectly at home on a cheeseboard any time of the year!