Cheese: Shropshire Blue
Where: Colston Bassett, Nottingham, England
Milk Type: cow, pasteurized
Shape: 17lb truckle
Flavor: very much like Stilton, blue, tangy, with a bit of “cheese cracker” flavor and spiciness from the annatto, caramel. Very long finish
Shropshire Blue is one of the most visually striking cheeses in the world. Essentially, it’s Stilton, but colored with annatto to give it that bright orange color. Once upon a time yellow Cheddars, Colby, Cheshire all got their hue from annatto, many still do, some use chemical colorings. Recent readers of the blog may remember Chris Roelli’s flaming-orange Red Rock, featured last month. Flavors of Shropshire Blue and Stilton can also be largely identical, though one difference I always note with Colston Bassett’s version is an undercurrent of what American readers might compare to the cheese snack cracker “Cheez-it”. It’s a slightly spicy, baked cheese taste making it more savory. Those flavors linger on your palate for a long while; serve Shropshire Blue last on a cheese board so as not to dominate the milder cheeses.
Of the few makers of this cheese, Colston Bassett, a farmers co-operative in business largely uninterrupted since 1913, is probably the most “traditional”. They hand ladle the curds, packing them more loosely. The resulting texture is looser, a little more moist. More crumbly than Stilton, it is nonetheless a very creamy cheese.
The history of Shropshire Blue’s birth is a little more muddled.
Some say that Dennis Biggins, a distributor, can be credited with creating the cheese in the early 20th century. While records are sketchy, he may have been the person that brought annatto tom the recipe and first used the name Shropshire Blue. However, much of the artisan cheese industry in England from the 1930’s forward closed up do to continued industrialization.
For certain, the Shropshire Blue of today can be credited to Andy Williamson at Castle Stuart Dairy in Inverness, Scotland. In the early 1970’s Williamson, who had learned cheesemaking in Nottinghamshire, including Stilton, made a cheese he called Blue Stuart, later changing the name to Shropshire Blue. Castle Stuart closed in 1980; eventually others began making this Scottish original including Cropwell Bishop, Long Clawson Dairy and Colston Bassett Dairy in Nottinghamshire.
Shropshire Blue, being, well… blue, you would think it a challenging pairing; however, for whatever reason, it pairs more broadly and successfully than most blues. Absolutely, sweet reds can work, including a fruitier zin, perhaps. Vin santo, Port… also sweet whites like a late harvest Riesling are nice with here.