The Surprising Truth About Shropshire Blue (aka Blue Shropshire)
Last week I went to stay with some friends who had just moved into a restored farm house on the Lincolnshire-Rutland borders. My host had set off to purchase some Lincolnshire Poacher, a local cheese, for us to sample. Having failed in that quest he lit upon some Shropshire Blue.
At the end of a good dinner, with a still generous supply of robust red wine to hand, the cheese was brought out and we were all surprised at just how good it was, creamy, rich, not such a strong taste that it took over the wine, excellent just on its own, in your fingers. And it has a lovely warm orangey colour with blue veining. Juliet Harbutt’s excellent tome, World Cheese Book, describes it as having
“a caramel sweetness behind a spicy blue tang”
Where does Shropshire Blue actually come from?
It might not have come from Lincolnshire, but on researching I found it didn’t actually come from Shropshire either. It was originally made in Scotland by a Stilton cheese expert. The manufacture has since moved around, via Cheshire, and then on to dairies in Nottinghamshire where Stilton is also made. ‘Shropshire’ is just another marketing misnomer.
The orange colouring comes from annatto
In fact, if you want to buy a type of Shropshire Blue actually made in Shropshire, you have to buy Ludlow Blue. Ludlow Blue is the only orange-coloured cheese to gain its colour using carrot juice – Shropshire Blue and the other orange cheeses use annatto, a colouring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree.
Robin Skailes of Cropwell Bishop Creamery (one of the principal manufacturers of Shropshire Blue) comments, “annatto has no flavour at all, but carrot juice of course does. I am not sure how carrot juice will affect the flavour of the cheese but I think the colour gives it a perception of different flavours”.
Where to get Shropshire Blue… or blue cheese from Shropshire (aka Ludlow Blue)
Ludlow Blue is available from the Ludlow Food Centre.
Shropshire Blue on the other hand is available internationally at supermarkets everywhere.
I haven’t tried Ludlow Blue, but not-Shropshire Blue is well worth trying. I can testify that it goes well with red wine, but others also say that it also pairs well with port, brown ale, and even with a cup of tea. And it’s also great crumbled into soups or onto salads.
And, of course, Murphy’s Law, when I walked into my local butcher in search of kidneys, down in the soft belly of the south of England, there was…. Lincolnshire Poacher!
Is it the best blue cheese?
If you are interested in blue cheeses you may also be interested in Cashel Blue, Crozier Blue, and Bellingham Blue. But you’ll be pushed to find a better cheese than Shropshire Blue (well, Stichelton is to die for, but aside from that… well, and Gorgonzola…. maybe others…), it’s been named by the Spanish version of Traveller Magazine as one of the 24 best cheeses on the planet, and it has also just been named as one of the top fifty foods in the latest Great Taste Awards.