With so many small traditional companies facing closure or pressure to modernise it was brilliant to be told that a dairy still hand making Stilton was celebrating its 100th birthday. Colston Basset dairy is a cooperative and is still making Blue Stilton and Shropshire Blue by hand. They are meticulous with their making and are therefore producing some of the best Stilton out there.
I was lucky enough to be invited along to the 100th birthday celebration being held at Quo Vadis in partnership with Neals Yard Dairy ( who stock only Colston Basset’s stilton) and The Kernal Brewery ( another great company producing great products in small batches in traditional ways).
The evening started with the first beer, there were seven in total. We were in the private dining room at Quo Vadis, and it was a great space to have. The ground floor is the home of the restaurant ( which I still need to try) and then the first floor is the bar, which on leaving we spotted a couple of celebrities in there. Arriving into the private dining room you are instantly met with the smell of cheese, not over powering but it just faintly filled the air in a nice way. It’s such a lovely welcoming aroma, coats off, beer in hand and canapes flowing.
We were shepherded into the dining room and greeted by another two beers to try. The menu for the evening was a cauliflower and Stilton soup, a selection of Stilton to taste ( along side the beers) followed by a Stilton and walnut salad and finishing off with St. Emilion au chocolate. Yum!!
The food created by chef Jeremy Lee was delicious. The soup was thick and creamy and definitely one I am going to try and recreate at home! Then came the cheese, these were not small slithers of cheese to taste but big honking chunks of cheese, a meal in itself. We were expertly taken through each of the cheeses by Billy Kevan the general manager of Colston Basset Dairy and Jason Hinds from Neals Yard Dairy, a white Stilton, a young blue Stilton, an animal rennet Stilton, a vegetable rennet Stilton and a Shropshire blue. For each cheese we were given a Kernal Brewery beer to try with it. The whole cheese making process was also explained and was to my surprise quite interesting. Colston Basset are one of the few dairies still making their cheese completely by hand, and you can tell through the flavour the care that goes into making this cheese.
The beer we were tasting courtesy of the Kernal Brewery was also great. My personal favourites were the Indian Pale Ale and the Berlinweisser. They had a couple of stouts to taste but that’s not my cup of tea, but the pale ales were for me the fruity, full of flavours and easy to drink. What I found interesting was because the ales are made in relatively small batches and as no two bags of hops etc are the same each batch made taste slightly different, and I like that. The fact that you could buy a bottle of the Kernel Brewery beer and then buy another one and it be a little bit different, its great, none of this mass made stuff that is lacking in flavour!
The evening as a whole was great, wonderful food and drink and educational. I went away full and warm having learnt something new about cheese.
If you are ever in Neals Yard buying cheese then I recommend you get some of the Colston Basset Stilton and give it a go!