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Stilton, the king of cheese, returns

By Chris Mercer , 22-Aug-2006

Deep in the heart of Britain's midlands, the only seven dairies in the world licenced to make Stilton blue cheese have had their work cut out this year to meet a surge in consumer demand.

Sales of Stilton, known in dairy circles as the King of Cheeses, have risen 15 per cent for UK dairy firm Milk Link over the last year, the group announced recently.

The growth echoes similar results across the industry, according to the Stilton Cheesemakers' Association (SCMA), which says clever marketing has seen the iconic blue cheese reborn.

 

"We have raised the profile of the cheese as one of the most versatile cooking cheeses you can use," Nigel White, of the SCMA, told DairyReporter.com.

 

The group's 'Stick on the Stilton' campaign, launched earlier this year, touted the cheese as a good extra for many dishes, including pizzas, sauces and salads. A similar promotion has already worked well for Feta cheese in Britain.

 

The launch of Stilton perfume, Eau de Stilton, in May saw the SCMA take things a little further. Chanel and the rest can sleep easy, however, after SCMA's PR partner told DairyReporter.com there was no plan to retail the blue cheese scent.

 

The high profile campaigns appeared to do the trick. PR firm Brazen said it saw a "spike in sales" during April and May.

 

And an industry source said Stilton sales were growing roughly twice as fast as Britain's cheese market, which is growing by two or three per cent annually.

 

The marketing tactics have proved more successful than supermarket price promotions, according to SCMA's White, despite Stilton's image as an expensive cheese.

 

"Blue cheese is very divisive, you either love it or you hate it. Only one in three households ever buy it, but those who do, buy it because they love it. Price promotions have done nothing for the market and never do."

 

Stilton, thought to have been first created in the early 18th Century, makes up more than half of that blue cheese market.

 

Still, its position and 300-year heritage were threatened earlier this year by the UK Food Standards Agency's (FSA) drive to cut consumers' salt intake.

 

The FSA said it wanted all blue cheese made in Britain to contain no more than 1.9g of salt per 100g. Stilton contains around 2.25g per 100g on average.

 

Lobbying by the SCMA got the FSA proposal dropped for the time being, and negotiations between the two have continued. "You can't make blue cheese without using salt," said White. "We took the FSA up to see how Stilton is made to show them why salt is required."

 

Salt content is considered critical to both blue veining and flavour development in blue cheese, and reducing salt in Stilton could have caused problems with its protected origin status in the EU and beyond.

 

Stilton was granted Protected Designation of Origin status across the EU in 1996, while the SCMA also registered Stilton as a certified trademark in 1966. It subsequently has trademark rights in some non-EU countries such as the US, Canada and Australia.

 

But, this privilege only continues in theory if Stilton is made strictly to its traditional recipe.

 

White said Stilton's protected trademark status had helped protect it from copycat producers in potentially lucrative export markets. Stilton producers now get 15 per cent of their sales from exports.

 

Stilton Facts

 

· Around 85 per cent of women who responded to a British Cheese Board survey last year experienced bizarre dreams after eating Britain's iconic blue cheese. These included talking soft toys, dinner party guests being traded for camels and a vegetarian crocodile upset because it could not eat children.

 

· Stilton can only be made in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire in the UK. Seven dairies are registered, including Dairy Crest's Hartington.

 

· Stilton has never been made in the town of Stilton, in Cambridgeshire, but was sold to travellers there as they passed between London and York.

 

· It takes 136 pints of milk (78 litres) to make one 8kg Stilton cheese.

 

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