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Shropshire Blue
This is one of the least known of the blues
and one of my favorites.

Bright orange with very distinctive blue veins.

It just makes me smile when I see it.

What were they thinking with the orange thing?!!

This cheese is not the cheese I would suggest for someone starting out, but it is one to put on your list once you have made a few other aged cheeses.

The primary reason I have chosen this cheese (besides loving it) is that the winter here in New England has me spending a lot more time indoors in the cheese room this year.

With more time in the cheese room, I tend to look for more challenging recipes (not really all that difficult, but more things to deal with).

PS: This would really be a nice show cheese to impress your friends with - color-texture-flavor... YUM!


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.


A Bit of History

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."


A Guide for Making Your Own Orange Blue Cheese

In the Style of Shropshire Blue

The guide below is for a cheese from 2 gallons of milk, but the photos are from a doubled batch.  I find that the cheese I make here in the larger size tends to be nicer, since the rind to cheese body ratio is so much smaller and it just makes a better presentation when cut.  For your first trial I suggest staying with the 2 gallon guide as written below.

I should say again, that is a cheese for the intermediate to advanced cheese makers.
NOTE: Start this one early in the day because there are some long wait steps as you go (otherwise you could be up into the wee hours).

Before you begin:

You will need:

Everything needs to be clean and sanitized.


Acidifying and heating the milk:

If using pasteurized milk, add 1/4tsp calcium chloride for a good curd. Stir this in well.
Then add 3/4-1.25tsp (4-6ml) annatto to the milk and stir in well.
Next heat the milk to 88F (30.5C).  You do this by placing the milk in a pot or sink of very warm water.  If you do this in a pot on the stove, make sure you heat the milk slowly and stir it well as it heats.

While heating the milk, remove 1/4 cup and add the P.roqueforti to it for re-hydration of the blue mold, set aside.

Once the milk is at the target temperature, the culture can be added.  To prevent the powder from caking and sinking in clumps, sprinkle the powder over the surface of the milk and then allow about 2 minutes for the powder to re-hydrate before stirring it in.
NOTE: this is a very small amount of culture; the intent being a very slow acidification to preserve the calcium and moisture in the cheese.

Once the culture is stirred in, add the re-hydrated blue mold.

Allow this all to set still for 30 minutes while the culture begins to work.


Coagulation with rennet:

Next, add 1/4tsp(1.25ml) of single strength liquid rennet.

The milk now needs to set still for 90 minutes while the culture works and the rennet coagulates the curd.  You should keep it warm during this period.  The milk will begin to show thickening at about 15-20 minutes, but leave it for the full time.  The long hardening time will help the curd hold moisture in the final cheese.
For those paying attention to the flocculation time and hardening factor (5x), this would be flocculation at about 18 minutes and a factor of 5, which will have a good curd at about 90 minutes.

Check the curd break for a good firm curd.  This one should break very clean, with clear whey washing into the cut.


Cutting curds and releasing the whey:

The initial cut for this cheese is very minimal.  Cut vertical 3/4 to 1 inch cuts in both directions as shown in the photo.  No horizontal cuts on this one.

Let this curd set for 3 hours, keeping it at temperature while the bacteria works and consumes lactose.

Note: in the photo at right, the curd has sunk to a considerable depth, as culture works and whey is released.

While waiting for the curd to release its whey and settle in the pot, prepare the draining pan/colander.
Here I use a food grade plastic kitchen pan and, with a hot nail, I poke many holes in the base of one and leave the other intact.  This gives me the option to drain the curds either submerged in whey or free of it.

In this case, I use the drainer pan inside another kitchen pan with no holes.  If using a colander for this, just size a colander that fits inside another pan to collect the whey around the curds.

Make sure both cloth and drainer are sanitized and ready for the next step.

Removing the whey:

Next step is to remove the free whey to the level of the curd.  As you can see below, the curds are very distinct long vertical pieces but with plenty of moisture retained. They are still quite fragile and will break under their own weight or if stirred.



Note the curd definition and moisture retention that has already developed at this point.


Draining the curds:

The next step will be to remove the curds to the draining cloth and allow the warm whey being released to gather around the curd mass and keep it warm. This can be done by transferring the curds to the cloth-lined colander or drainer which is held in a pot or other container to hold the whey.
I used a small stainless bowl here with a thin edge to both cut the curd and transfer to the cloth.


The curds are cut as large as possible to retain the moisture
and are transferred with all remaining whey.


The curds are now allowed to release the whey which will collect around the consolidating curd mass, providing warmth and a ready supply of lactose to keep developing acid.  This should take about 1 hour.


The whey will rise to cover the curds within an hour.
This whey can then be removed, leaving a lightly consolidated curd mass.

Consolidating the curd mass:

The next step will be to tighten the cloth by pulling up all 4 corners, then taking one corner and pulling the cloth around tightly, and then fastening the curd mass into a snug ball.  Turn this over onto the knot and allow the whey to collect again.


Tie the curd into a compact bundle, flip it over and wait for the whey to collect again.

Final prep for the curds

Now you are getting there.  In about an hour, the whey will rise again and can be removed for the final time.

The curd mass now needs to be turned in the cloth and retied.  Do not collect the whey, but allow it to drain away.  In about 1 hour, the curd bundle will look like the 2nd & 3rd photo below and is ready to be removed from the cloth.

You can now remove the cloth and cut the curds into large pieces of about 2-3 inches each for more draining.

Yes, you will now have a draining cloth that is colored a good healthy orange for a while now!

The new curd pieces should be kept warm and turned every 15 minutes for the next hour while the final acid continues to develop.

At the end of this step, remove the warm water and allow the curds to rest overnight and the temperature to drop to about 65-75F.

A time table for the initial make day
Hrs Process Step
.5
1.5
3
1
1
1
1
----
ripen milk
rennet works
whey rises in cut curd
transferred to cloth and whey rises - no tie
whey rises w/ tied bundle - whey collected
no whey collection - w/ tied bundle curd
cut curd into 2-3" blocks keeping warm - turned every 15 min
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
9 Total time for first day of making Shropshire Blue

The next morning, the final curd is now ready to be broken, salted, and formed in the molds.  Begin by breaking the large curd pieces into quarters.  Note the nice flaky texture of the torn curd (photo on bottom left), then shrunk to 3/4 inch pieces ready for salting.


The next morning, a good final acid (pH 4.6-4.7) should have developed.

Note the flaky curd when torn.
Very little whey is released overnight, as seen in photo above.

Salting:

About 2% of salt by weight of curds is measured out and added to the curds in 2-3 portions while stirring the curds well to allow the curds to slowly absorb the salt and brine created.

Molding the cheese:

You are now ready to form the cheese.  The curds are pretty well formed but with high moisture.  They will initially sit high in the mold but will drop to about 1/2-2/3 of the initial pack height after a couple of days of turning.
Because of this, you will need a taller mold.  The large mold I use here has plenty of height for my double batch, but for the 2 gallon batch use either:

Place the mold on a small board with a draining mat under it.  Fill the mold, packing firmly (the curd will be rather well defined by now).  Place another draining mat on top followed by another board.  This will continue to drain moisture for several days, so be sure to consider this.  The temperature should be 60-65F for this.  If your curd is very dry, you may need to use a follower with about 4-8 lbs of weight to assist the consolidation.

The curds will settle in the mold as shown over the first few days of turning.

At about 5 days of turning the cheese, the curds should have consolidated nicely but the surface will show large openings and cracks.  These are addressed by closing the surface with a flat bladed knife (dull edge is best) or large spatula.  This is dipped in warm water and firmly scraped back and forth over the surface until the scrapings fill the cracks.  At 5 days, this goes easier because the proteins have begun to break down and the surface is much softer to work with.

The surface is also quite moist and will need to be wrapped with a cloth bandage.  A dry cloth is cut to the height of the cheese and wrapped around the cheese.  This will wick moisture to the surface and over the next several days it will begin to dry out.  The cheese should then be placed on another cloth square to wick moisture from the bottom and another square smoothed over the tops.  This should then be placed in a cool room of moderate moisture to dry the surface.


Final prep of the cheese for aging.


Aging:

After several more days, the wrapped cheese will begin to dry out and blue mold will show on the surface, as seen below.  As the bandage dries out, it can be removed and the cheese moved to the aging space with about 85% moisture and 52-54F.


The cheese drying down and cloth removed.

At about 5 weeks, the cheese should have:

  • begun to mellow
  • become more consolidated but with plenty of air spaces for mold to grow
  • become ready to be pierced with many holes to allow air into the cheese for the blue to develop internally

The holes are made by piercing with a sanitized 1/8" sanitized skewer about 3/4-1inch apart over the entire surface top and bottom

In about 3-6 months the mold should have grown well inside the cheese, the surface should have dried down to a dark wrinkled surface and be ready for the table.




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Thanks for joining our cheese making family, keep those stories & photos coming. We love to hear from you!

In Peace,
Ricki, the cheese queen

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