By: Charles CampionWhen you taste a great piece of Stilton, you can see why some gourmets recommend enjoying it with a glass of dessert wine, an old Oloroso or a decent Australian Liqueur Muscat. You can also understand why Roger Verge of the Moulin de Mougins described it as "Un veritable delice". It is probably sacrilege to use such a cheese for cooking with. On the other hand, the sauce does taste very good indeed.
This sauce is robust and fully flavoured, and so it is best used with beef or venison – meats with enough about them to "fight back" – or, at the other extreme, over plain pasta or perhaps a baked potato, when you can enjoy the flavour alone in its glory. You need Stilton, of course, and in common with most things the general principle of "the better the quality of the ingredients you start with, then the better will be your finished dish" holds good.
At this point it is hard to resist a short detour into the "How to serve Stilton" controversy. It seems to me that the "dig-in-with-a-spoon-and-add-glass-of-port" school have been badly misled. This is a quick and easy way to spoil not only the cheese but the port as well. Treat Stilton like any other fine cheese: not too much fridge, cut off what you need as you need it, and don't sweat it in a plastic bag. I must confess that in these guidelines I am only reaffirming the excellent advice offered by the Stilton Cheesemakers Association.
25g plain white flour
50g good unsalted butter
500ml whole milk
freshly ground black pepper
125g ripe Stilton
50ml double cream
There is no substitute for practice. This Stilton sauce is basically a béchamel sauce with knobs on, and like all sauces the béchamel can end up as thick as porridge or as thin as milk. It's really up to you to decide how you like it; have a trial run and see for yourself. If you follow the quantities given here slavishly, you will strike what I believe is a happy medium; but were I in your place, I would not hesitate to add in a bit more flour or a bit more butter if I felt that was the right thing to do. You shouldn't hesitate to do so, either.
So, to work. Melt the butter gently in a frying pan, and while that is happening put the milk onto a medium heat in another pan with a good pinch of ground mace. Add the flour to the frying pan and cook the resulting roux gently; don't brown it too much (a purely cosmetic consideration).
Do cook the roux thoroughly, and then, when the milk has come to the boil, add about a quarter of it to the frying pan and work it in carefully. The way that the milk and roux merge into one is fascinating to watch, but you must keep stirring, then add the next quarter of milk, stir, cook, and repeat until you have amalgamated all the flour and all the milk. And no, this procedure will not work just as well with cold milk! It is important to cook the flour thoroughly and so avoid the nasty metallic taste that could otherwise pose a problem.
Then take the Stilton and crumble it into the béchamel, stirring as it dissolves, preferably with a balloon whisk. Do not let the sauce boil once you have added the cheese. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Finally, beat in the cream to "polish" the sauce. Check seasoning once more. Serve and collect the compliments.
© Recipe copyright 2004 Charles Campion