Waitrose - UAE Grocery Deliver

Waitrose - UAE Grocery Deliver

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True blue

  • Food
  • 06.12.23
Words Waitrose 06/12/23

You can tell that the people of Long Clawson really care about cheese. Beyond every stone wall in this handsome Vale of Belvoir village in Leicestershire is a cow grazing; the village shop’s fridge could rival Fortnum & Mason’s; the local spot puts Stilton on its stone-baked pizzas. Many of the beautiful red-brick houses have belonged to cheesemakers over the years, too, as the village is home to a pioneering, eponymous dairy.

Long Clawson Dairy (clawson.co.uk) was founded in 1912, when a dozen local farmers banded together to buy an old pub, The Royal Oak. Transforming it into a Stilton dairy, they ran it as a co-operative – and still do. In the century-odd since, it has grown to become the UK’s biggest producer of Stilton, with only a short break in the 1940s when the government ordered it to switch to producing Cheddar for wartime rations.

Thanks to the requirements of its Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status (see box), making Stilton is by default a very local business, and one that Master Cheesemaker (MC) Anne-Claire Tisserand found herself involved in almost by chance. One of just four MCs employed by Long Clawson, Anne-Claire came to the UK from France to train for a degree in food science and microbiology. Having watched her grandmother make cheese in the French Alps as a child, she sought out a placement with a specialist cheese producer, finding her way to the rural Midlands. “It was supposed to be for six months,” she says with a smile. “But more than 30 years later, I’m still here.”

You can’t make great cheese without great milk, and Long Clawson Dairy gets through up to 220,000 litres a day. One of its founding families, the Egglestons, still produces milk exclusively for its cheeses. Their 600-strong herd of cows graze a patchwork map of fields on a carefully planned schedule that’s overseen by fifth-generation farmer Amy Eggleston. Rich grasses grow throughout the year. “The weather and the terroir of this area make the best grass for Stilton,” explains Anne-Claire.

The milk, though, is just the first step. Cheesemaking is, in Anne-Claire’s words, “a mixture of mystery and microbiology”. Even with decades of expertise, it can be unpredictable and unforgiving. A vegetarian rennet is added to curdle the milk, but if the curds are too tight, there won’t be space for the blue mould to create the characteristic veining they’re after. Too much whey and the cheese will be too salty; too little, and it will crumble.


When making Stilton, the first 48 hours drive the quality. Once the rennet and cheese cultures have been added to the milk, it is left to curdle – the slow acidification is crucial to the flavour and must take place overnight in accordance with its PDO criteria – after which the curds are cut, drained, salted and tipped into moulds, which are essentially cylindrical colanders. On its first day, each cheese is turned three times to ensure the whey drains evenly, protecting that all-important texture. Although the initial turns are done by machine because of the weight of the curds, each cheese continues to be turned, by hand, every day for about four weeks.

The mystery Anne-Claire talks of comes from the microflora, the dairy’s very own blend of bacteria and moulds, which is what makes Long Clawson’s cheese stand out. It’s a near-invisible ingredient that exists in the dairy’s very environment and comes into its own in the maturation rooms, where the Stiltons’ exterior coat develops. The microflora can’t be bought or bottled, and Anne-Claire has worked with scientists at the University of Nottingham to understand its make-up. “We’ve even done DNA tests,” she says.

Once the moisture levels are just right, the cheese is delivered to the maturation rooms – vast warehouses where the temperature and moisture help the microflora take hold. Each cheese is skewered to introduce pockets of oxygen exactly where they’re wanted. Then the waiting begins. At around six weeks old, the Stiltons are graded by removing a core from each cheese to check its smell and texture. Determining the care and attention the cheese needs from these checks is known in French as affinage (“There’s no equivalent word in English, unfortunately,” says Anne-Claire). The grading is repeated weekly until each cheese is just right; Long Clawson Stiltons usually reach their peak between 10 and 14 weeks old.

Stilton can be powerful in flavour – salty, creamy, subtly sharp and sometimes verging on bitter – but the Long Clawson you’ll find in Waitrose is deliberately mellow, despite being a punchy ‘4’ in strength. “Even people who are hesitant about blue cheese seem to love it,” says Waitrose Partner and speciality cheese buyer Sarah Miness. Anne-Claire is deeply proud of the special blend too: “It melts in your mouth and has a very well-balanced, rounded taste with no bitterness.” The thrill of trying a new batch for the first time has never worn off. “We taste cheese every day,” Anne-Claire says, “and after 30-odd years, I still love it.”


WHAT MAKES A PDO (Protected Designation of Origin)?

Like Champagne, Parma ham and Melton Mowbray pork pies, Stilton has been given a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) mark, meaning its location is so key to its quality that similar products made elsewhere cannot use its name. In Stilton’s case, the cheese can be made only in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire by one of six specified dairies, using milk produced in those three counties. Other requirements include that the milk must be pasteurised and curdled overnight, the curds cannot be pressed (hence all the turning) and the finished cheese must be cylindrical, with a naturally formed ‘coat’.

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