Matthew O'Callaghan, Melton Mowbray

Matthew O’Callaghan, of the Melton Mowbray Food Partnership, opposed attempts by cheesemakers in Stilton to sell cheese under that name

Cheesemakers in the parish of Stilton have suffered a major setback in their efforts to be allowed to call their cheese Stilton, with Defra rejecting their application.

Stilton is protected under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) scheme, and cheese can only be sold under the Stilton name if it meets strict production criteria and is made in Leicestershire, Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire.

The Original Cheese Company applied last year to have Stilton’s PDO amended to allow production in the parish of Stilton in Cambridgeshire, where it claims Stilton production originates. 

However, Defra has rejected the application. “As The Original Cheese Company is not producing Stilton cheese, its application to change the product specification does not meet EU eligibility rules,” a Defra spokeswoman said. The Original Cheese Company maintains this is incorrect and says it does, in fact, produce cheese.

“Stilton Cheese originated in the Melton Mowbray area and not in the village of Stilton”

Matthew O’Callaghan

Defra’s decision has been welcomed by food producers in Melton Mowbray. Matthew O’Callaghan, chairman of the Melton Mowbray Food Partnership, said he was delighted with Defra’s decision. “Stilton Cheese originated in the Melton Mowbray area and not in the village of Stilton.”

Permitting the Stilton-made cheese to be sold as Stilton would have been “a travesty and damaging to the reputation, heritage and quality of authentic Stilton cheese”, he added.

Richard Landy, director of The Original Cheese Company, rejected the Partnership’s claim over Stilton’s provenance: “We would welcome anyone who can produce contemporary documented evidence of Stilton cheese being produced in Leicestershire prior to 1788.”

He added The Original Cheese Company intended to contest Defra’s decision.

In its application to have the Stilton PDO amended, The Original Cheese Company said it was now recognised that Stilton cheese first originated in Stilton around the beginning of the 18th century. It added that it had been producing cheese to the current Stilton PDO specification since 2011. 

The Original Cheese Company produces a blue cheese, which is made to the Stilton recipe and is sold as Village Blue. If the PDO were amended, the company would call the cheese Stilton, but if it was not amended, it would call it Stilton’s Village Blue, added Landy. 

The Original Cheese Company also produces white Stilton.

Stichelton Dairy

Meanwhile, a separate application by Stichelton Dairy – to amend the Stilton PDO specification to allow unpasteurised cheese to be sold as Stilton – is currently going through the consultation process.  

“Several objections were received during the national consultation, which have been put to the applicant, Stichelton Dairy. Stichelton have responded, and that response has been put to the original objectors, who now have a further opportunity to comment,” a Defra spokeswoman said.