Stilton, the Village that Gave the Cheese its Name:
I’ve eaten a lot of Stilton cheese over the years, but it never occurred to me to find out where this cheese comes from…until now.
Stilton cheese takes its name from Stilton village in the District of Huntingdonshire in the County of Cambridgeshire. For anyone who’s been to Cambridge, Stilton sits northwest of this famous town, and its nearest large town is Peterborough.
Today the reputation of the Stilton cheese brand has far outpaced that of the village from where the cheese first came. This King of English Cheeses is much loved by cheese connoisseurs around the world and enjoys an international reputation as a premier blue-veined cheese.
Stilton’s Ancient History
The earliest records of settlement in Stilton came from Roman finds and it is believed that the Romans used the road from London to the army fortress at Lincoln, which was later called Ermine Street by the Saxons.
The Doomesday Book of 1086 has three mentions of Stilton as three landowners, the King, the Bishop of Lincoln and Eustace held land here.
By the fifteenth century, the Great North Road had become a busy thoroughfare and Stilton was a well-known staging post. There were as many as 14 inns or ale houses with a population of 500 – 600 people.
The village of Stilton today is a quieter place than in the days when it was a trading post for many commodities between London and Edinburgh . The A1(M), a four-lane dual carriageway, runs alongside the village so Stilton gets by-passed by traffic. Today, there are only four pubs in the village.
For travellers to the region, Peterborough (about 10 km from Stilton) is one of the oldest settlements in Britain. Other historic towns and cities include Stamford, Oakham, Oundle, Huntingdon and Cambridge.
Stilton has many local celebrations and one of the more famous ones is their annual Cheese Rolling event every May Day when hundreds of villagers and visitors from as far away as the U.S., France and Poland find their way to the High Street to take part or watch the teams challenging for the honour of being called the ‘Stilton Cheese Rolling Champions’. I’m pleased to say that no cheese is wasted here! They don’t use the real Stilton and instead competitors roll wooden “cheeses” (made from chopped up telegraph poles) down the High Street. The price is a real 16 lb Stilton and a tray of local beer.
So, if you’re travelling in the Cambridgeshire area around May Day, it’s certainly worth showing up for the Cheese Rolling event and enjoy some cheese from where it all started. Also, you can check out the Bell Inn, known as the birthplace of Stilton Cheese. Past visitors to this 16th century inn include highwayman Dick Turpin and poet Lord Byron.