South Island Saxelby Stilton

I arrived home recently after a life of cheese in London, & I happened across a tale of a cheese once made in Invercargill, New Zealand. It was enjoyed throughout New Zealand, and eventually exported to Australia due to its ‘notable quality and superior flavour’. It is claimed to be the first Stilton manufactured commercially in the Southern Hemisphere. I was intrigued.

John and Betsy Saxelby[1] and their six children arrived in New Zealand from Kings Norton, near Birmingham, early in the 1880s. John a farmer, and Betsy a classified maker of cottage cheeses, set to making Stilton in their cheese factory at Roslyn Bush, Invercargill. Farmers were paid 3&½ d per gallon for their raw shorthorn milk[2], a much better price than butter. As a result, a Stilton operation was suggested for trial in Taranaki.

Milk was left to acidify in it’s own time, the addition of whey starter was used by some if acidification of make moving too slowly.

Stilton cheese is principally made in small dairies of from six to ten cows. The milk is “run” at a low temperature – from 74 to 78 Fahr.: the application of hot water or steam is dispensed with. The curds and whey are first dropped into a strainer, and the whey is drawn off until the curd is formed into a cake. This is often allowed to remain for twenty-four hours, then broken small, and salted during the process of being placed in a mould. It continues in the mould until it is firm enough to stand – about eight or ten days – being turned every day. It is then removed from the mould, and the outside is scraped to fill up the cavities and render it smooth. A piece of cheese-cloth is pinned round the cheese, and it is removed into a temperature of not less than 70 Fahr. No external pressure is used for Stilton cheese. In about five or six months the blue veins begin to appear, and the prime Stilton is ready for market.

taken from ‘The Manufacture of Cheese, Butter and Bacon in New Zealand’ 1883

Whether Saxelby Stilton was made in the same way I’m yet to find out, Betsy Saxelby’s cheesemaking records are said to be knocking about somewhere in an Invercargill archive.

The cheese won many certificates, medals and trophies, often due to being the only cheese entered in it class. It was also proclaimed that Saxelby’s Stilton was ‘better stilton cheese than was being made in England’. I’m not looking for another stilton war, but maybe it’s time for a renaissance of good old colonial fare?[3]


[1] *Saxelby (or Saxelbye) is a small village in the district of Melton in Leicestershire, England – Stilton country.

[2] Pasteurisation was introduced on a wide scale in New Zealand about 1906, and shorthorns were the first dairy cattle to enter the country.

[3] @CurdNerd & his wife @CustardSquare arrived in England from Browns Bay Auckland in 2002. There they were taught to make Childwickbury from esteemed cheesemaker Elizabeth Harris of St Albans. @CurdNerd & @CustardSquare have recently returned to New Zealand to make cheese.

About Curd Nerd

Put it in my belly, especially if it's smelly.
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