Call to Action: Raw Milk Cheese & Stilton
One of the oldest cheeses in Europe can’t use its own name
How would you like it if one day someone stopped you from using your own name? It certainly wouldn’t be a happy day, and the whole business would appear nonsensical. Sign our petition here
Yet this is precisely what has happened in the United Kingdom to Joe Schneider, one of the country’s finest cheesemakers. Joe produces a blue cow’s milk cheese called Stichelton, a made-up name of recent coinage for what basically is a Stilton, namely Britain’s oldest, noblest cheese. And he has been producing it since 2006, using the traditional technique recorded in documents dating back to the 18th century. But he can’t call it Stilton because, even though he works in part of the geographical area defined by the EU’s PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) scheme, Nottinghamshire, it can’t be certified with PDO status.
The fact is that Joe uses only raw milk to make his cheese, whereas the PDO production protocol, drawn up in 1996 by the Stilton Cheese Makers Association, requires the use of pasteurized milk for hypothetical reasons of hygiene and health safety.
The United Kingdom is the country that most insists upon the use of pasteurized milk in its PDO production protocols (in proportion to the total number of its PDO products): five of Britain’s eleven PDO cheeses require the use of pasteurized milk, while four PDOs allow both techniques (raw milk or pasteurized). It’s a strategy that goes against the trend whereby the countries keenest to valorize their dairy heritage—France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland—regard raw milk as a given.
Joe only processes milk from the cows of his own herd, whereas the six PDO producers—all much bigger than he is—blend milk from a number of farms.
Joe produces 8,000 cheeses a year, the other dairy farms over a million. Yet the consortium isn’t prepared to tolerate, still less to valorize his tiny, virtuous production.
Which is why Joe’s raw milk Stilton now appears on the market as Stichelton, an old form of the name of the village in which it was produced historically.
Initially, Joe Scheider asked the Stilton Cheese Makers Association to alter their production protocol to allow cheesemakers using raw milk to enter the PDO scheme, but in vain. He didn’t give up there, however. Three years ago, in fact, he began his own personal battle by submitting a request to the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to alter the PDO protocol, justifying it with the unimpeachable argument that cheesemaking with raw milk is the most traditional method and that his own technique is safe, its only requirements being a spotlessly clean workshop and healthy cattle. A long time passed before he received the reply, a clear ‘No’. The Department’s view was that a request of such importance could only be submitted by a member of the consortium. The problem is that Joe can’t be a member of the consortium precisely because he would have to produce his cheese with pasteurized milk to become one.
‘There’s nobody left producing raw milk Stilton,’ says Joe, who’s disappointed but determined not to give in. ‘I believe this is the right path to follow and I’m not going to surrender. I’m fully aware that it’s the large-scale producers who prop up the national economy, but I find it alarming that politicians are only concerned about protecting the interests of big business without a thought for small producers. The PDO belongs to the people of Britain and of Europe, not to the big corporations.’
Slow Food has decided to support Joe in his campaign by setting up a Slow Food Presidium to assert the legitimacy of his request to alter the PDO production protocol and be allowed to produce the traditional version of raw milk Stilton.