I was drawn to this cheese by the story of its name. A blue cheese (rather obviously), it was named ‘Blacksticks’ after a farm of the same name near to the dairy, where some tall chestnut trees looked like black sticks against the winter sky. I love the British countryside in the autumn and winter (my other half likes to go on about ‘crows in ploughed fields’ as he knows it will make me all misty-eyed) and, as the summer starts to wind down, it seemed an appropriate cheese to check out.
As usual, I present you with the cheese (you might need sunglasses for this one):
Blacksticks Blue is a softish pasteurised cow’s milk cheese made in Preston, Lancashire by the Butler’s dairy. The Butler family have been making cheese since 1932, through three generations and on a multitude of nearby farms (including Blacksticks Farm), as well as at a small dairy in Cheshire where they also make cheeses from goat’s milk. Recipes have been handed down through the family and they source all of their milk from farms within ten miles of the dairy.
Blacksticks Blue is part of a range which also includes Creamy (a soft blue cow’s milk cheese), Silk (made from goat’s milk) and Velvet (made from sheep’s milk, when it’s seasonally available). It’s coloured with annatto to give it its amber glow and, as with other blue cheeses such as Stilton and Roquefort, penicillium roqueforti blue mould is added to the milk. The curds are then hand cut, stirred, poured into moulds and allowed to drain naturally. Several weeks later, the resulting wheels of cheese are pierced with needles to make tiny holes, through which air can enter and activate the mould, causing the lovely bluey-green mottling (if you look carefully at the photo you can see lines of blue running down the cheese where the needles penetrated). Because the cheese hasn’t been hard-pressed, the mould can develop through the more open texture, pushing into the little cracks that it finds. Each cheese is then hand-turned for the next eight weeks whilst it matures.
Taste-wise, it’s not quite as punchy as a quality Stilton but it’s lovely and creamy with a spicy edge and, I thought, a slight farmyardy tang. I shared it with a friend whose reaction was ‘Oh my, oh my, oh my, that is a helluva good cheese!’ which is probably as good a recommendation as any!