Plans have been unveiled to erect a statue in Melton to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the local woman who is widely credited with originating Stilton cheese.
Funding is to be sought for the momument in the centre of town to establish a new tourist attraction, and further cement the borough’s reputation as the rural capital of food and drink.
The statue would feature Frances Pawlett, who was born in Sproxton in March 1720, who produced the earliest standardised version of the blue vein favourite and sold it to a pub in the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton, from where it acquired its name.
The man behind the plans for a permanent landmark to illustrate Mrs Pawlett’s influence on the cheese is Matthew O’Callaghan, who is also the main organiser of most of Melton’s food festivals, including April’s annual Artisan Cheese Fair.
He said: “A cheese sculpture would be great for Melton so we can show how important the area is in the history of Stilton cheese.
“It will be 300 years since the birth of Mrs Pawlett next year so this will be an ideal time for a statue to commemorate her life.
“It would be great if we could get funding from the council or local businesses, and I am also planning to set a crowd-funding page to raise the money we will need for it.”
Mr O’Callaghan cites the success of a similar sculpture in France, erected in the 1920s in honour of Marie Harel, who is credited with orginating the nation’s iconic Camembert cheese.
Madame Harel and Mrs Pawlett, who lived to the age of 88, are the only two women cheesemakers celebrated in Autumn Stanley’s popular book, ‘Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology’.
Madame Harel was portrayed in a Google Doodle - an illustration of a well-known historial figure or event which features on a specific day when online surfers perform a Google search - and Mr O’Callaghan has applied to have one appear on March 12 next year to mark 300 years since Mrs Pawlett’s birth.
He added: “Although Stilton Cheese, which is called the ‘King of Cheeses’ in England, was first produced around the start of the 1700s it was Frances Pawlett who is widely credited with the standardisation and wider dissemination of the cheese.
“In the 18th and 19th centuries it was mainly women who were responsible for the production of cheese, passing their skills from mother to daughter.
“Frances produced a cream cheese which she sold to Cooper Thornhill, the landlord of the Bell Inn in Stilton, on the stagecoach route to London, from where it acquired its name.
“Through Frances’s efforts this cream cheese became the Stilton Cheese which we know of today.”
Stilton cheese has enjoyed European Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status for the last 23 years but that is now being threatened by the UK’s imminent withdrawal from the European Union.
The government is keen to set up a similar scheme to protect the cheese and other protected food names, such as Melton Mowbray pork pies and Cumberland sausages, but that would only extend to UK producers and not to those who want to make the products overseas.
The protected status Stilton currently enjoys, means that it can only be made in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, and producers have to follow traditional recipes that have been around for generations.
Producers have formed their own professional organisation to support the brand, called the Stilton Cheesemakers Association.
Long Clawson Dairy’s Stilton production is part of a huge operation locally with milk for the cheese being supplied by 43 dairy farmers within 25 miles of the dairy, with many of them based in the Vale of Belvoir. The dairy has been operating for 108 years.
One of the smallest dairies licensed to produce Stilton is Colston Bassett Dairy, which is established as a farming co-operative with milk being supplied by four farms within just a 1.5-mile radius in the Vale.
The 104-year-old business celebrated winning four categories at the prestigious Great Yorkshire Show Cheese and Dairy Awards earlier this month.
Town shop the Melton Cheeseboard is one of the prominent places to buy Stilton, and owners Tim and Lynn Brown were recently interviewed for an upcoming BBC TV show about the history of the cheese.