Shropshire Blue Cheese Info
Making Shropshire Blue Cheese
Shropshire Blue is one of the least known blues and one of my all time favorites. It's bright orange with very distinctive blue veins and makes me smile every time I see it.
I would not suggest making this cheese if you're just starting out, but it's certenly one to put on your list once you've made a few other aged cheeses.
The primary reason I chose this cheese (besides loving it) is that the long New England winter had me spending a lot more time indoors and I needed something to brighten up my cheese cave.
With more time inside, I tend to look for more challenging recipes, not really difficult, just more steps to keep me ocupied.
What is Shropshire Blue Cheese?
Shropshire cheese is a rather "modern" cheese, with a history going back only as far as the early 20th century. Despite its name, it was not born as a "Shropshire Lad", but far to the north in Scotland. Orange coloring was simply a matter of distinguishing it from others, quite similar to the Cheshire story on coloring. The orange color comes from the addition of annatto, a natural food coloring.
Over time it has moved south and is now made by the same folks making Stilton in the East Midlands of England.
The cheese at first appears to be much like the Stilton but is really more like a Blue Cheshire. It has a more flaky and crumbly texture and the blue is quite mild in a fully ripened cheese. The extensive ripening results in the cheese body collapsing with a fine network of blue veins running through it. It shows a really nice balance between the breakdown of fat and protein, resulting in a cheese that will stand on its own accompanied with only a nice dark ale. Shropshire is generally creamier and less nutty than Stilton.
The cheese is made into drums about 8-9 inches in diameter, 14 inches high, and weighing about 17 lbs. It has a light brown exterior, with an orange interior. The orange interior has blue and green veins of mold throughout the cheese from the same mold that makes Roquefort blue: Penicillium roqueforti.
Note the color of the Shropshire Blue in comparison to other blue cheeses shown in photo to the left here.
Today it is made in a similar way to Stilton, it is a soft cheese with a sharp, strong flavor that takes between six to eight weeks to mature, but longer is usually well worth the wait.
The History of Shropshire Blue Cheese
Shropshire Blue was developed by Dennis Biggins, who actually made his living grading another famously orange cheese, Cheshire, hence the similarities.
When the UK's small scale cheese production began to decline in the 1930s, due to large scale productions and the poor decisions of the UK's Milk Marketing Board, the production in Scotland ended and eventually the cheese making moved south to the East Midlands. Today, one of the most well known Shropshire Blues is produced in Nottinghamshire, England by Richard Rowlett and Billy Kevan at Colston Bassett Dairy.
Originally, the name Shropshire Blue had nothing to do with the county of Shropshire in England, but today 'Ludlow Blue' is also made in Shropshire by Ludlow Food Center (part of the Earl of Plymouth's Oakly Park Estate which extends to approximately 8000 acres of Shropshire countryside). This is the only Shropshire Blue made in Shropshire and is unique in using organic carrot juice to introduce the trademark orange color. The food center sounds rather unique:
"Our Dairy uses milk from our own Friesian-Holstein cows to create cheese, butter, yoghurt and ice-cream. Dudley and Paul hand make all of our cheeses using traditional methods and it is all matured on beech racks in the Food Centre’s cheese store.
Half of our products are made on the premises in kitchen units that surround the food hall. These are visible through glass windows that allow you to see our artisan producers actually making your food."