Under the European Union (EU) PDO scheme, which is designed to protect the historical geographical status of agricultural products and foodstuffs, cheese can only be sold under the name ‘Stilton’ if it is made in Leicestershire, Derbyshire, or Nottinghamshire, and meets specific manufacturing criteria.
The proposed amendment, which was filed by Stilton-based The Original Cheese Company, called for the village of Stilton in neighbouring Cambridgeshire - “where Stilton cheese originated” - to be added to the PDO for Stilton.
Yesterday, Defra rejected The Original Cheese Company’s application, on the grounds that the applicant does not produce Stilton.
“As The Original Cheese Company is not producing Stilton cheese, its application to change the product specification does not meet EU eligibility rules,” said a statement issued by Defra.
Speaking with DairyReporter.com, Richard Landy, director of The Original Cheese Company, slammed the decision and accused Defra of “nitpicking.”
In order to apply for the Stilton PDO amendment, Landy set up The Original Cheese Company. He said that he also approached Defra for advice on the type and amount of Stilton-style cheese it should produce to ensure the success of its proposal.
The company, which operates out of the Blue Inn in Stilton, produces a cheese called Stilton-Village Blue. According to The Original Cheese Company’s application, Stilton-Village Blue is produced “as permitted by the current Stilton PDO.”
Using Cambridgeshire-sourced whole pasteurised milk, Stilton-Village Blue is “produced in cylindrical form, is un-pressed, is allowed to form its own coat and has a taste profile typical of Stilton cheese.”
But according to Landy, this was not enough to support its petition.
“They’re nit-picking,” he said.
“They say that The Original Cheese Company is not connected to the Bell Inn. They haven’t seen our accounts to how can they make that contention.”
“The biggest problem is that since we sent in our application, the rules have changed. The PDO is no longer about history, it is now about traceability,” he said.
Stilton originated in Stilton
In its application to Defra, The Original Cheese Company said that the proposed amendment was “in the interests of historical accuracy and fairness.”
It also claimed that it has “been recognised” that Stilton cheese originated in village of Stilton in the early 1700s, where it continued to be commercially produced until the latter 1700s.
“My research has proven that Stilton originated in Stilton, not in Leicestershire as others would claim,” said Landy today.
“That’s why we’re so angry.”
David and Goliath situation
Despite this week's setback, The Original Cheese Company intends to press on with its campaign.
“It’s a David and Goliath situation. Stilton cheese is a £100m a year industry. That’s what we are up against,” said Landy.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with the decision from DEFRA. But this is just the start of the game. I have spent four years on this campaign; I reached the point of no return a long time ago.”
“But Defra turning us down has probably given our cause more publicity than if they had upheld it,” he added.