Sadly, the tranquil beauty of Christmas Day did not spill over into the following morning,
the bright sunshine obscured by pendulous clouds until by evening they relented their burden gave way to a spattering of mercifully light rain.
After a quick slice of toast & marmite for breakfast (sorry folks, I love it!) I did the morning chores & the milking, with Dad; after which I rustled up a bowl of ‘White Christmas’ broth – basically, a heartwarming port, Stilton & white onion recipe inspired by the Covent Garden Soup Company. I was reasonably pleased with it; but felt it could have benefited from a little more seasoning & a lot more of the cheese; although as Stilton adds such a deliciously robust tang I was concerned about overwhelming the other flavours; but I think I could – & should – have been a little braver.
I am certainly looking forward to sampling in earnest the latest newcomer to the Stilton scene: dubbed Stichelton (the medieval name for the village from which the PDO, or Protected Designation of Origin, cheese originally hails) it is already highly acclaimed for its milky, buttery flavour with a cool rather than peppery tang to the blue, & a good, well-rounded length of taste. Ironically it cannot strictly be called a Stilton; as although it is produced only 75 miles northwest of Stilton village, it is made using raw milk – & Stilton’s PDO perversely insists the milk is pasteurised. This is because, in 1989, an outbreak of food poisoning was linked to an unpasteurised Stilton – & although it was later proved that said cheese was in fact not the cause, the damage to its’ reputation was deemed to have been done – so despite the woeful loss of the subtle complexity of flavour blessed by the natural ripening activity of otherwise harmless bacteria, raw milk Stilton production tragically ground to a halt.
Perversely, this has not prevented the advent of the ridiculous travesty of ‘novelty’ cheeses; white Stiltons containing exotic fruity addititives such as apricot, mango, ginger & cranberry; yet I certainly haven’t seen any mango groves in Nottinghamshire of late!
Meanwhile at this time of year, a staggering two thirds of all the Stilton produced, is consumed for the Christmas market. With its’ price tag of £22 per kg, I’m sure Stichelton will, regardless, grace the very best tables throughout the world; but as its’ patiently traditional production is limited to only 40 tonnes per annum coupled with its delectably unctuous, syrupy body, it’s a treat well worth savouring.
The whole process begins with Stichelton’s 150 Holstein-Friesian cattle consuming the farm’s home-produced organic silage. Even the starter culture has a venerable provenance, hailing from Ernie Wagstaff’s Colston Bassett Creamery – one of the last-ever raw milk Stilton producers. Traditional calf rennet is also used; & with remarkably small doses of starter & rennet in each batch, the curds are carefully hand-ladled into a trough to mature slowly overnight, adding depth to the delectable flavour.
American cheesemaker Joe Schneider (who, incidentally, trained under Daylesford’s excellent tutelage) was approached by Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard; who’d noticed a rise in the popularity of Stilton but wanted to offer more discerning consumers a ore flavourful traditional equivalent of this beloved cheese.
But Stichelton was not without its’ own difficult journey of discovery: the first examples proved disappointingly acidic & brittle; but by simply lowering the temperature of the maturing curd a lighter, more fluffy structure was achieved along with the desired softly buttery aroma of a truly great cheese. Even in its relative infancy, Stichelton holds its head above such noteable giants as Quenby Hall, Colston Bassett, Cropwell Bishop & even Long Clawson – so next Christmas, I think I’ll be giving my heart to this blue-veined, blue-blooded newcomer on the Stilton scene – even if it is something of a usurper….!
After our main meal Mum enjoyed her personal favourite, tasty treat – hot banana on toast sprinkled with a smattering of rich, brown molasses sugar; after which, Dad took Mum for a gentle promenade all the way up our steep drive. Meanwhile I took the swift opportunity to prepare another surprise for them – the novel present of a partridge in a pear tree, for which my grateful thanks go to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for this unique idea – & incidentally, Hugh’s latest Fish book is comprehensively inspirational!
I’d purchased a lovely, robustly healthy example of a fine Williams Pear tree from local Trefhedyn Garden Centre & decorated it with a festive garland; to which I added a brace of locally-shot partridge, along with a hearty pack of our traditionaly-cured, delicious bacon, a jar of redcurrant & port jelly the sum of which was complimented with small bottle of champagne for Mum, a bottle of ‘Pickled Partridge’ ale for Dad; & a Christmas card for both in which I’d penned a mouthwatering recipe for roast partridge. It’s a bit of a departure from a standard hamper – but was plenty of fun to put together, & I’m so relieved they were delighted with such an unusual gift (especially as I discovered they’d been searching for a suitable pear tree, for their lovely garden!).
However, Dad & I were both extremely concerned about Mum; as their long walk, whilst conducted at a suitably dignified pace, clearly took a great deal out of her. Regardless she really must exercise; or tragically she’ll only find each & every step all the harder, in future. So keep on keeping on, Mum!
Next on the day’s hectic agenda was my tardy Santa Claus (or in Wales, Sion Corn) impression; as I sped round friends & neighbours delivering a few last-minute gifts & cards, pausing briefly for a glass of wine & a chat before hurrying back down the hill to home so that I could cook a hearty evening meal for my parents after hastily finishing the farm chores for the day.
This evening, something slightly different was on the menu: roast leg of kid studded with our own pungent home-grown garlic & aromatic rosemary. As ever, our dear old ‘Fat-Arse’ Rayburn worked its’ magic, gently cooking the meat until it was wonderfully tender & full of flavour; but with none of the cloyingly fatty grease so often found when eating lamb. Thus satisfied, we followed the excellent repast with a wickedly indulgent, creamy sherry trifle – delicious & deserving of a snooze in front of the warmth of the woodburner’s cheer!
And as for my beloved Tony? Well, from what I can gather, he spent much of Boxing Day tucked up in bed, nursing a monster hangover; poor, dear man…..!