Stilton is a type of English cheese, known for its characteristic strong smell and taste. It is produced in two varieties: the well-known blue and the lesser-known white. Both have been granted the status of a protected designation of origin by the European Commission, together one of only seventeen British products to have such a designation. Only cheese produced in the three English counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire – and made according to a strict code – may be called "Stilton". This means that cheese produced in Stilton, the village in Cambridgeshire after which the cheese is named, would not legally be allowed to be called Stilton Cheese.
It is commonly believed that the pioneer of blue Stilton was Cooper Thornhill, owner of the Bell Inn on the Great North Road, in the village of Stilton, Huntingdonshire. Traditional legend has it that in 1730, Thornhill discovered a distinctive blue cheese while visiting a small farm near Melton Mowbray in rural Leicestershire – possibly in Wymondham. He fell in love with the cheese and made a business arrangement that granted the Bell Inn exclusive marketing rights to blue Stilton. Soon thereafter, wagon loads of cheese were being delivered to the inn. Since the main stagecoach routes from London to Northern England passed through the village of Stilton he was able to promote the sale of this cheese and the fame of Stilton rapidly spread. However, the first known written reference to Stilton cheese was in William Stukeley's Itinerarium Curiosum, Letter V, dated October 1722. Daniel Defoe in his 1724 work A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain notes, "We pass'd Stilton, a town famous for cheese, which is call'd our English Parmesan, and is brought to table with the mites, or maggots round it, so thick, that they bring a spoon with them for you to eat the mites with, as you do the cheese."
Frances Pawlett (or Paulet), a skilled cheese maker, of Wymondham, is credited as the person who gave Stilton its first quality and shape standards. Her skill at cheese making and her husband's business acumen led to the first marketing cooperative in the area for Stilton. Pawlett would come to set the standards other cheese makers would need to meet for "blued cream cheese" good enough to be marketed as Stilton. Along with Thornhill the Pawletts helped build the trade in Stilton cheese to record levels.
In 1936 the Stilton Cheesemakers' Association (SCMA) was formed to lobby for regulation to protect the quality and origin of the cheese, and in 1966 Stilton was granted legal protection via a certification trademark, the only British cheese to have received this status.