Cheese to go

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NOT everyone, I think it is safe to say, when dramatic news from distant Fiji recently hit the headlines, immediately thought of cheese. That's right; cheese. Stilton, in fact. For very few would know how an Anglican clergyman played a part in satisfying the desire of someone out there in Suva to enjoy this king, or queen, of all British cheeses. It was like this. Said clergyman, taking a day and a night off from his parochial duties in the Peak district of Derbyshire, found a lodging for the night at the Charles Cotton Inn, Hartington. At the conclusion of an excellent meal there, the friendly waitress wheeled up to his table a sweet-and-cheese trolley. On this, in a place of honor, was a whole round Stilton cheese, clothed in white linen and with a silver spoon all ready to scoop out a succulent portion from its center. With a sigh as of one giving in to temptation, the clerical guest succumbed, resisting the urge to sample the competitive fruit pie, creamy trifle, etc., surrounding this obvious pride of the house.

It was delicious; the best Stilton he had ever tasted. And it came, the waitress explained, from just round the corner and went out from there not only to the royal household and local dukeries, but also all over the world. He was not surprised, after spreading some of it on a biscuit or two. He was interested to learn that Stilton (and of such quality) could be made in Derbyshire. The name, surely, was that of a place in Leicestershire; or was it Huntingdonshire? It was like discovering that Stilton's rival, Wensleydale, could come from, say, Somerset, and not only from Yorkshire. Or Double Gloucester from Kent.

Only later did he learn that it was doubtful Stilton cheese was ever made in the village of that name. That village just happened to be a convenient collecting point on the Great North Road for the Leicestershire producers sending supplies to London Town. But there was a Stilton Cheese Inn there; and it is, or was, in Huntingdonshire.

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It was a photograph of this half-timbered hostelry in a newspaper that prompted the clergyman to write a letter to the editor of the paper, telling of his evening of serendipity at Hartington. And that letter of his was read by an eminent and learned citizen of Suva, Fiji, some 12,000 miles away. He wrote to ask for the address of the Hartington cheese manufacturer, with a view to having such a Stilton shipped out to his remote islands. That was in the summer of 1973, at the beginning of July.

After that things apparently moved quickly. For in the following month came another airmail letter from Suva. As a result of correspondence involving the proprietor of the Charles Cotton Inn and the manager of the neighboring dairy, a supply of Derbyshire Stilton cheese was, I gathered, on its way to Fiji. I was glad to have been of some assistance.

Now, when saying ``Just a little of the Stilton, please,'' to round off a meal in a private or public house (though rarely do I find one to equal that of my night in Hartington), I think of those islands in the South Pacific Ocean which I have never seen. Whether they make their own variety of cheese out there I cannot say. We in England make a good many different kinds of cheese, but none, I would say, as good as Stilton. I do hope it continued to arrive from Derbyshire, in good condition; and that it may once again be enjoyed in peace.

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