Gordon loves cooking and experimenting with food. He loves making new dishes, particularly with unusual or underused ingredients.
Port and Stilton is one of those classic food-and-drink combinations that simply trips off the tongue for many people. One a full-bodied, sweet and fruity, high alcohol content Portuguese wine; the other a king among cheeses, its creamy saltiness complemented and enhanced by the richness of the wine.
There can sometimes be a tendency for port and Stilton to be viewed as a rich man's fodder—a combination enjoyed only by those in dinner jackets and bow ties immediately before cigars at a formal bash hosted by the lord of the manor.
While this was at one time perhaps true, the price and availability of some very decent ports in modern times means it is now easily affordable for a majority of people. The ports featured in this article are just two of the varieties widely available to buy, and they represent the more modest end of the price scale.
Port and Stilton: Traditional Serving Methods and an Explanation
The most widely recognised tradition with regard to port is probably that it should always be passed to the left at the dinner table. This tradition aside, port is known very often as an after-dinner drink, frequently served with Stilton or to complement a more comprehensive cheeseboard offering. There are some traditionalists who will be surprised by the way in which some of the serving suggestions included in this article stray significantly from these established parameters, so I thought I would take a moment to explain why I am suggesting these variations on what is often such an inflexible concept.
There are occasions in the culinary world where it is undeniably wrong to attempt to improve upon perceived perfection. This would be especially true where a dish is comprised of ingredients with very delicate flavours that could easily be overwhelmed. In the case of port and Stilton, however, not only do both have very robust flavours, they are not so much a dish as a popular serving combination. It is these two facts, combined with a desire to further improve the port and Stilton experience, which led to the ideas laid out below. Some of these ideas are of course not entirely original, but hopefully, you can see something new in most of them and you will be prepared to give them a try, however traditional your tastes may be.
Ruby Port and Stilton Serving Suggestions
Ruby port is one of the more widely available types of port and one of the least expensive. Don't make the mistake, however, of thinking that its position at the lower end of the price range means it is of inferior quality—that is patently not the case. It is so named due to its similarity in colour to the precious stone and it is a sweet, rich, very enjoyable variety of port.
Port and Stilton with Devils on Horseback
Devils on horseback are—strictly speaking—bacon strips wrapped around a form of dried fruit such as dates. In this instance, however, Parma ham is used, which seemed better suited to serving with port and Stilton than the more traditional bacon. The crackers used here are very basic and infused with sea salt and black pepper but moderately plain crackers of any type will work just as well.
Per person, take a strip of Parma ham and cut it in half lengthways. Lay a stoned date at one end of each strip and simply roll to encase the date in the ham. Secure with a cocktail stick or toothpick.
Lay a wedge of Stilton on a plate with two crackers alongside. Sit a devil on horseback on each cracker and serve with a glass of port.
Port and Stilton with Pear
Fruit in general is something that goes very well with a wide variety of cheeses and Stilton is no exception. While pears may not be the most popular of choices in this respect, they do work very well in the role. This is a dessert pear that was quartered and subsequently cored before a quarter was laid on a cracker with half a grape to garnish and an assembly served either side of a wedge of Stilton.
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Port and Stilton With Game Pie and Pickles
The British love affair with pies in general means that there are countless varieties produced and enjoyed around the land. One of the richest and most luxurious, however, must be a quality wild game pie. Dating back many hundreds of years, game pies can be made from a combination of a wide variety of different meats and still to this day represent a taste of rustic, British country life that few other foods can successfully emulate.
Often served and enjoyed cold, game pies can be accompanied by a wide variety of different cheeses, including very much Stilton. This particular game pie is made from pork, venison, duck and pheasant. The richness of the port further complements the pie and the basic pickles that are pickled onions and Branston Pickle provide that perfect final touch.
Basic Ploughman's Lunch Incorporating Stilton Cheese
If the idea of game pie with port and Stilton seems a little too rich or voluminous for you—or perhaps you are vegetarian—you could instead consider serving a very basic form of a ploughman's lunch. The mythical ploughman's lunch is supposed to represent the lunchtime sustenance of men who had spent the morning ploughing the fields of England in centuries gone by. In actual fact, the concept is an entirely twentieth-century creation, devised as a marketing ploy to help sell more cheese. That should not detract from the enjoyment of the creation, however, and a bit of Stilton with some fresh crusty bread and pickles is enhanced very well by a nice glass of port.
Tawny Port and Stilton Serving Suggestions
Tawny port is a combination of different cask-aged wines. It is again named after its colour. It doesn't have quite the same rich sweetness as ruby port and is consequently a little more subtle in flavour.
Port and Stilton With Apple, Grapes and Oatcakes
Apples and grapes are probably the two fruits most commonly served as accompaniments to any cheese, including Stilton. In this instance, a few slices from a Granny Smith apple and a small bunch of black grapes are laid on the plate on either side of the Stilton wedge.
Oatcakes are also a hugely popular accompaniment to port and Stilton, so much so that when port and Stilton combinations are purchased online, a pack of oatcakes will often be included in the price. These particular oatcakes are Stockan's, from the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. They are absolutely fabulous even by the standards of other Scottish oatcakes and cannot be recommended highly enough.
Port and Stilton with Tenderstem Broccoli and Bruschetta
Broccoli and Stilton is a classic soup combination. It is from the soup concept that this serving suggestion is derived. The broccoli used here, however, is tenderstem broccoli rather than the heads of broccoli more likely to be used in the soup and it is merely blanched that it retains a definite, appealing crunch.
You will need about four stems of the broccoli per serving. It should be added to boiling, salted water to simmer merely for two minutes, maximum. It should then be drained.
The bread used to make the bruschetta is wheat, spelt and rye, but a thick slice from any similar whole loaf can be used. The bread is toasted under the grill/broiler until golden on both sides before being rubbed on one side with a peeled and lightly crushed garlic clove. It is then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.
The bruschetta is plated with the tenderstem broccoli on top and the Stilton alongside.
© 2013 Gordon Hamilton