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Stilton & Vintage Port

Holiday traditions are a great thing – as long as they don’t outlive their attraction and become burdens to be fulfilled.  For me, that was the case with putting up a live Christmas tree every year.  When we hung up the bow saw for good, it was quite a relief – no more tipsy tree that needed to be watered regularly and whose needles gave the hand vacuum cleaner a reason for being.

So far, we have not grown tired of Stilton and Port.  And I don’t see an end in sight to that scrumptious holiday tradition.

For more holiday seasons than I care to remember, Ella has ordered a small round of Stilton, this year, I think, from Williams-Sonoma.  It comes by UPS, Fedex or USPS somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas and is stored in the refrigerator wrapped in cloth to be used as needed for entertaining or as an after-dinner treat.  Even a small round can accommodate a dinner for eight and a dozen or so individual meals for the two of us.

One allure of Stilton for me is that it’s arguably the one cheese the English can do much better than the French.  While nice, Roquefort is no competition, a cheese best enjoyed while travelling in France.  Second is the fact that having a round of Stilton presents probably the best time to drink a Vintage Port – one of the best pairings in food-and-wine history.  Third is the ritual.

We have spent a lot of time over the past three decades on Martha’s Vineyard, and we love to shop in the small antique stores in Tisbury and Edgartown.  Not being born with silver spoons in our mouths, we had never heard of a Stilton spoon until several years ago when we saw one in a display case on Water Street.  It looks so alluring lying there – a mother of pearl handle and a bowl that looked like a small shovel with a notch on one side.  We bought that one and, a few months later, a second one in case we lost track of the first one. Traditions are so much more fun if you have back stories to go with them, and so we had ours.

Yesterday, Christmas, after the game hens were polished off, we got out some crisp crackers and the Stilton spoon and unwrapped the half-gone cheese.  Another part of the Stilton allure is that you carve the cheese with the spoon from the top of the round down, creating a larger and larger cavity as the cheese is consumed.  (Those with a morbid humor, which includes me, will have flashing visions of the movie, Hannibal, in which Antony Hopkins digs into Ray Liotta’s exposed brain.  “Did that spoil it for you, Clarice?”)

Yesterday being a special occasion, I uncorked a 2000 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port.  In no time at all, the Port was half gone, its delicious, yet well-balanced richness accompanying bite after bite of the tangy Stilton.  The leftover Port will still be very good a week from now when we again bring out the Stilton on New Year’s Eve.

Tradition will have been served for another year.  And I will not have to dismantle a browning tree and drag it to curbside.

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