Posted: 18/03/2020

MP leading village of Stilton’s new mission to make famous blue

Britain’s most famous blue was dragged into a row over EU rules and Brexit last month as campaigners, including a local MP, revived calls for Stilton to be allowed to be made in the Cambridgeshire village it is named after.

Stilton, which is covered by a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) under EU law, can only be made in the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. 

The cheese took its name from the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton where it
was traded and first rose to fame in the 1700s, although historians dispute whether it was ever actually made there.

Campaigners in the village fought an unsuccessful battle in the early 2010s to have the PDO changed, but the fight has been reignited by a local pub landlord and North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara, who criticised “EU rules and bureaucracy” in Parliament.

“As we leave the EU, may we have a debate on products made in the UK that up to now have had restrictions on them?” he said in the Commons. 

“I am proud that the village of Stilton is in my constituency, but despite a local historian finding evidence that Stilton cheese was originally made in the village, EU rules and bureaucracy have prevented the cheese from being made locally.”

However, Matthew O’Callaghan, chairman of the UK Protected Food Names Association, rubbished the MP’s calls. “Stilton was first protected with a trademark in 1966 by the High Court of England [which also specifies where it can be made], so this is nothing to do with EU law,” he told FFD. “This is more about an MP wanting to make a name for himself.”

The UK will set up its own geographical indication (GI) schemes after the Brexit transition period. This will see EU rules protecting British foods translated into British law. While this will protect British products within the UK, a reciprocal deal with the EU has not yet been agreed. 

“I hope the EU and the UK respect each other’s schemes after the transition period,” said O’Callaghan. “It was something that was referenced in the withdrawal agreement.”

Sales of protected food name products in the UK are worth around £6bn each year and account for around a quarter of UK food exports, according to O’Callaghan.

The Stilton Cheesemakers’ Association did not respond to a request for comment.

This story appeared in the March issue of Fine Food Digest. You can read more on the digital edition here.

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