It has had a difficult rise to being an accepted and sought after cheese. The recipe has been through the hands of 3 or 4 Artisan cheesemakers prior to being made by the Colston Bassett Dairies.
It was the brainchild of Dennis Biggins a cheese factor based in Whitchurch, Shropshire. In the 1930s. he came up with the idea of adding naturally found Annatto food colouring to the milk, prior to it being heated, and created this unique and utterly delicious cheese.
Shropshire Blue was “rediscovered” in the 1970s by Andy Williamson, a Scottish cheesemaker. Working at the Castle Stuart Dairy, he redeveloped the Shropshire Blue and sold it under the name of Inverness-shire Blue. That was until 1980 when the dairy closed down.
The story of Shropshire Blue is then picked up by two Cheshire farmers and cheesemakers; Elliot Hulme and Harry Hanlin. They used the original recipe and kept Shropshire Blue alive, albeit for a short-lived period, when it was taken over by the Colston Bassett Dairies.
Colston Bassett Dairy was formed in 1913 by Doctor William Windley. In 1913, while living in the area, he encouraged local farmers to crowdfunds dairy.
They raised £1000, bought a plot of land, built the dairy and started production shortly after the beginning of World War 1. It was the War Office that decided it was too indulgent to produce their Stilton. So, the first cheeses they produced was a hard-pressed, cheddar style cheese.
It wasn’t until 1920 that the dairy started to produce Stilton and more recently Shropshire Blue but again it was stopped at the outbreak of the Second World War and production reverted to hard-pressed cheddars. Gradually, by the 1950s Stilton was being produced again and since 1980 Shropshire Blue too.
Colston Bassett Dairy took up the production of Shropshire Blue and has a team of dedicated cheesemakers who hand ladle the milk from the vats into the cylindrical moulds. After arriving daily from local farms within a 1.5-mile radius of the dairy, full-fat milk is pasteurised to kill harmful bacteria, then cooled before going into the cheese vats. Once in the vat, starter and blue mould culture (Penicillium Roqueforti) are added and finally rennet in order to set the milk.
After setting, the curd is cut up. The cut curds then settle to the bottom of the vat and the whey separates to the top. In the afternoon the whey is drained off leaving an exposed mat of curd. This is then ladled by hand from the vats into curd trays at the side.
Here it remains until the following morning when it is milled, salted, mixed thoroughly by hand, and placed into hoops (or cheese moulds). The process thus far has taken 24 hours.
The curd then drains in the hoop, under its own weight for 5 days. The hoops are turned over daily to facilitate drainage and ensure that the moisture runs through the cheese rather than collect at the bottom. The rind is formed naturally in the maturing stores within which it can spend up to 9 weeks, before being sent to the cheesemongers.
As the cheese ages, it is pierced using a piercing machine. Which pushes stainless steel needles into the circumstance of the cheese. Once the air enters the holes, the Penicillium Roqueforti, which has thus far been dormant, can start to grow. This forms the typical blue veins that are associated with Colston Bassett Shropshire Blue cheese to start spreading throughout the white cheese.
After maturing, every cheese is grading prior to sale. A cheese iron is used to bore into the cheese and remove a core of cheese. The Affineur uses his sight, smell and taste to assess the volume of blue veining; smell and, most importantly, the flavour. This job can only be undertaken by the most experience Affineur.
This assessment is completed on every cheese until it reaches the required standard. Only then can it be called Colston Bassett Shropshire Blue.
The milk is pasteurised making the Shropshire Blue suitable for a pregnant woman to eat, according to the NHS guidelines, and, as it uses vegetarian rennet, is suitable for Vegetarians.
Colston Bassett Shropshire Blue tastes slightly spicy and sweet with a creamy undertone and long-lasting flavour. It has a beautiful, soft and rich interior that resembles marble. A particular favourite at Christmas time, it is perfect at home on a cheeseboard any time of the year.
Colston Bassett Shropshire Blue has won many awards including Gold and Silver at the World Cheese Awards.
A great recipe idea is to crumble Colston Bassett Shropshire Blue over a salad of watercress and orange segments or use it when making cheese scones to give them an extra zing.
Of course, it’s can also be the star of classic cheese board accompanied by a jar of Cheshire Chutney Co’s Pear and Ginger Chutney or Tracklements Caramelised Onion Marmalade and Peters Yard Sour Dough biscuits.
Colston Bassett Shropshire Blue cheese is best at room temperature. Remove from the fridge when you start your meal, let its temperature gradually increase.
When you have finished, resist the temptation to wrap the cheese in cling film or place it in an airtight container. Cheese needs to breathe or it will sweat. So rewrap in the wax paper your cheesemonger used and place it in the crisper draw of your fridge. Cheese stored like this will keep for up to 14 days from the date it was cut by your cheesemonger. If some white blooming appears, it is totally natural, don’t be concerned, just remove it and enjoy the remainder of your Colston Bassett Shropshire Blue cheese.