First, an apology. For those of you who are regular readers of this blog you may have noticed that I neglected to write a post last Saturday. After nearly a year of daily and then weekly posts, this was a first, and I am deeply chagrined. In truth, it was a confluence of family events so wretched that cheese could not be made a priority-yes that bad! Thus, today’s post-a Thursday post-is a make up for last week. I promise another in two day’s time barring no new family type emergencies. Forgive me.
The more cheese I taste and review, the more I realize that there really are only 5 types of cheese: washed rind, bloomy rind, blues, mountain, and fresh. All cheeses are some combination or permutation of the above with a tweak on the milk used, the affinage, the addition of a particular mould or salt or wash, but really…that’s it! Yes, this small number of cheese types produces an almost infinite number of actual cheeses…just like humans, I suppose. We are all a combination of egg and sperm, but what a sumptuous variety.
I mention this because today’s cheese, Shropshire Blue, is referred to as the “love child” of Cheshire and Stilton. Well, no one actually uses the phrase “love child,” but I shall here today, on My Blog of Cheese! Cheshire and Stilton had a lovely little orange baby. Both of these British cheeses have been reviewed here, Cheshire-an ancient British crumbly and salty cow’s milk cheese, and Stilton, the famous cow’s milk British Blue…but, their child, Shropshire Blue came out orange! Sometimes kids come out funny in the wash.
Interestingly, I really haven’t been able to pin down the origins of this cheese to my satisfaction. Numerous sources on the web give quite different inception dates, and these are all great sources, so it’s quite the mystery. One excellent source says it came to be in 1970 at the Castle Stuart dairy in Scotland by Andy Williamson, a cheesemaker who had trained in the making of Stilton, while another trustworthy source claims it was created in the 1930’s by a Cheshire Cheese dealer Dennis Biggins. This troubles me. Was it Biggins, or was it Williamson? Was it the 1970’s or the 1930’s? Everyone seems to agree that it was first made in Scotland and the name Shropshire was used fictitiously to cash in on the cache of British cheese names, but who and when? It’s a freaking mystery.
What I do know for certain, is that Shropshire Blue is now made in Britain, not Scotland, and although the cheese is not protected it is only made by three cheese makers. I also know that Shropshire Blue is a blue cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk which gets its funky Halloween colour from our good friend, annatto. The mould used to produce this beauty is our old friend, penicillium roqueforti. Shropshire Blue has a natural rind and ages about 2-3 months before sale. It is usually made by Stilton makers using the same technique as Stilton, the only real difference being the annatto which does interact in the aging giving this cheese and ever so slightly sour but sharper and spicier taste than Stilton. But really, Shropshire Blue is Stilton with a spray tan.
My little wedge of mysterious Shropshire Blue, and I say mysterious as I actually don’t even know who the maker is of this specific cheese-a huge shame- cheese mongers, don’t deny this knowledge to me-it’s like a foundling at the hospital door, yes, it’s a child, I can see that, but what about the parentage? I digress, my little wedge of mysterious Shropshire Blue is truly hideous, yet lovely. It’s a deep russet orange flecked through with blue veining. I showed it to my husband, who recoiled visibly, it’s really not what most people think of when they think of cheese. The rind is natural and thin and brown, and the colour becomes darker towards the rind. When I sliced the cheese it crumbled a little, it’s just begging to be eaten. The cheese smells mild, and here I mean mild in a blue cheese sort of way. It actually just made my mouth water sniffing it…oh, I can’t wait!
Salty! Spicy! Creamy! It’s a Stilton, no-it’s not as sweet as Stilton, this Shropshire Blue burns my throat, it’s really peppery and spicy…what is that? Is that the annatto? No orange cheddar has ever done that. Seriously, my throat is on fire, this is weird. Could it be an allergy? Who cares. The texture is amazing, smooth with little crystal flecks, I wish I could smear this on something, it’s begging for smearing and a slice of pear, but I am a purist-I resist. There’s a real ammonia kicker to this cheese, more so than in most blues-it makes my eyes water, it’s so foul and fabulous, how can I explain myself? This cheese is heinously delightful! If you are looking for something that looks shocking on your cheese board and sets your throat on spicy fire, look no further. Shropshire Blue, I dig you, but I’m weird, you my friend, are my slice of cheese.