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#53: Shropshire Blue

Until recently, Shropshire Blue had never been made in Shropshire. Who knew? Time for a history lesson.

In his 1995 book “The Great Cheeses of Great Britain and Ireland”, Robert Smith writes:

Shropshire Blue is a misnomer as the cheese was first produced in Scotland. Penicillium roqueforte produces the blue veins, and annatto gives a golden-orange colour. Ripened for 10–12 week, when it is said that the cheese has ‘a bit more bite than Stilton’. Makers include Colston Bassett, Cropwell Bishop, Long Clawson, Millway and Tuxford and Tebbutt.

This list of makers is also a list of the Midlands Stilton-producing powerhouses, and today includes Hartington, who make our Shropshire.

In 1982, Patrick Rance wrote a more detailed history of the early years of Shropshire Blue in “The Great British Cheese Book”, in his own distinctive style:

One of the blue cheeses made for some years at Castle Stuart Dairy, Inverness, was sponsored by Adamsons of Short Street, London, who sold it as Shropshire Blue. Andy Williamson, much respected in the Stilton world, went back to Scotland to make the new cheese, a lightly pressed blue with a deep red curd, which found a ready sale throughout the country in good cheese shops. Then orders were refused in spring 1980, with a promise of ‘more later’. For unexplained and unfathomable reasons the North of Scotland Milk Marketing Board had closed the dairy and the ‘more later’ came from Hankelow. Elliot Hulme and his Blue Cheshire cheesemaker Harry Hanlin showed their first public Shropshire Blue at the Nantwich Show in July 1980. They had been helped with advice from Charlie Chisholm, who managed the Castle Stuart Dairy when the cheese was made there.

All the milk for the cheese was unpsteurised, and came from Hankelow pastures. Mr Hulme had to quote EEC regulations against monopolistic restraint of trade to persuade the Milk Marketing Board to let him buy his extra milk for his enterprise from his co-operator.

Mr Hulme told me in September 1980 that first Shropshire Blues from Hankelow has proved a little firmer and deeper red than the cheeses made in Inverness. He has since ceased production, but in 1981 John Adamson and Company got Long Clawson Stilton Dairy interested in this cheese, coming back to the nineteenth-century conception of Stilton Cheshire.

Not much has changed with this tasty, orange coloured, blue cheese since then. Pasteurised milk is now used, as
is using animal rennet, so the cheese is not suitable for veggieburgers.

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#52: Dovevale Blue

We’ve spent 2018 exploring some exciting new cheesemakers: Leicestershire Handmade, Sheffield Cheesemasters and Olianas. This week, we return much closer to home, with Dovevale Blue from Hartington Cheese. It’s a soft, creamy cheese with a mild blue flavour. The cheese is brine dipped, instead of being dry-salted, and … hang on, haven’t we heard this all before?

Well.

Protected Designation of Origin (P.D.O.) is a European initiative, offering protection to foodstuffs made in specific locations, by not allowing cheap knock-offs to be produced elsewhere. There’s a question as to what will happen when we leave the EU, with American manufacturers hoping to sell “Cornish” pasties (currently protected by P.D.O.) in the U.K. But that’s for another time.

There are eighteen cheeses with P.D.O. protection in the U.K., one of which is Dovedale. DoveDale. Made by the Staffordshire Cheese Co. Ah, so Hartington’s DoveVale must be one of those cheap knock-offs? In fact, Hartington Creamery was making Dovedale back in 2007, when the P.D.O. was registered. The creamery closed in 2009, and by the time cheesemaking resumed in Hartington in 2014, it was being made down the road. But there’s nothing to stop Hartington calling their new cheese Dovedale too; after all, there are seven makers of Blue Stilton, which is also a protected name.

So I wonder why Dovevale isn’t Dovedale? Answers on a postcard. Postmarked “Brussels”.

Stepping Stones in Dovedale
Stepping Stones in Dovevale
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#50: Yorkshire Pecorino Fresco

Pecorino is Italian sheep’s cheese: “pecora” means “sheep” in Italian. When I think of pecorino, I think of a hard, aged, nutty cheese, much like our Berkswell Ewe. That’s because stagionato (seasoned = aged) cheeses travel well, and are the varieties normally exported. But within Italy fresco (fresh = young) are also made, but rarely exported.

Mario Olianas is from Sardinia, but now lives in Leeds. He makes a classic Pecorino Fresco using milk from Harrogate and cultures from Italy. It’s only 30 days old, and is smooth, yogurty and sweet. Come enjoy our finest Italian Leodensian cheese.

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#49: Jo’s Cheese

OK. You got me. I love Leicestershire Handmade Cheese. There, I said it.

The Jo of “Jo’s Cheese” is half of Jo and David Clarke, who make these delicacies. This week’s offering is soft, creamy and delicate, but with a blue bite. “But it’s not blue” I hear you cry. Well, the unpasteurised milk is heated in a small vat and a blue Penicillium mould is added. However, the cheese is not the pierced (unlike their Battlefield Blue) which would encourage the veins to develop. The cheese is then ripened in high humidity, to allow a wonderful greeny grey rind to form.

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#48: Little Mester

Sophie Williamson from Sheffield Cheesemasters is the only cheese manufacturer in Sheffield. Sophie decided to become a cheesemaker a year ago, after attending some professional cheesemaking courses at the School of Artisan Food. She experimented at home making lots of different types of cheese, before converting an industrial unit in the city to a make room and maturing rooms. They currently make around 250 cheeses per week using 300 litres of pasteurised milk, sourced from the local farm Our Cow Molly.

Little Mester is Sophie’s first cheese, released at the end of 2017. It as a surface-ripened soft cheese, matured for only two and a half weeks, so fresh and young tasting. It’s soft and gooey on the outside with a firmer core which continues to ripen if left for longer.

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#47: Bosworth Field

Jo and David Clarke are famous for their Sparkenhoe, the only farmhouse Red Leicester made in the county. But
the make other cheeses on the farm too. The first addition was Battlefield Blue, primarily to give them something else to sell at farmers’ markets! Others followed, such as Jo’s Cheese, Sparkenhoe Blue, and — according to a recent Radio 4 program — soon to include a Stilton.

Bosworth Field is a made on the farm with unpasteurised milk. It’s a wonderful mould-ripened cheese, semi-soft with a white crumbly centre getting softer towards the grey mould.

It’s made with the raw milk from the dairy cows and is made in a small vat. The milk is heated gently and the curds are cut by hand and allowed to pitch for an hour, the curds are then placed in 5kg moulds and pressed gently over night and the following day placed in a brine bath. The cheese is then ripened for 2–3 months when the rind forms, sometimes taking on a gorgeous wrinkly appearance.

The name derives from the Battle of Bosworth Field, the final battle in the War of the Roses. The victory for the Lancastrians led to their leader, Henry, becoming the first Tudor king. The battle was thought to have been fought near Market Bosworth, but more recent surveys revealed it to have been two miles south-west of there, with part of the battleground being within the Clarke’s farm in Upton!

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#45: Sparkenhoe Vintage Red Leicester

Spot the difference!

You’d be right in confusing this week’s cheese with last’s. Feedback from our new Red Leicester was that customers liked it, but would prefer a bit more whoomph. Luckily, Sparkenhoe produce a version matured for 18 months rather than 6.

About the young cheese they write:

A traditional Red Leicester cheese made from the milk of our own cows, a true revival of a fabulous cheese, nutty, sweet with a citrus finish. Cloth bound and matured for 6 months on beech shelves.

whilst about the mature cheese:

A truly wow cheese with a completely unique taste. It is matured for 18 months by which time the salt crystals have started to reform. The caramel flavours are more exaggerated and the overall flavour is strong without being acidic.

Come give it a try!

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#44: Sparkenhoe Red Leicester

New year. New cheese.

Now that the Silly Season is behind us, we can get back on with the serious business: Cheese of the Week.

For Christmas, Mrs. Cheese bought me a copy of “Reinventing the Wheel: Milk, Microbes, and the Fight for Real Cheese”, by Bronwen and Francis Percival. The authors argue for Proper Cheese: shortening the distance between dairy farming and cheesemaking, and removing fertilizers, pasteurization, and microbial cultures from the process. Such practices are common today; there’s no need for any of them. Each changes the taste of the cheese, and takes it further from the environment in which it is fashioned.

This week’s cheese is a Red Leicester. Until now we’ve only stocked Thomas Hoe Aged Red Leicester (recently rebranded as Rutland Red). Customers love it: supermarket Leicesters are poor, and here was one they could really taste. But Thomas Hoe doesn’t satisfy the Percivals’ definition of Real Cheese: their maker, Long Clawson combines milk from 43 farms, beigeing the flavour.

This week’s cheese is not beige. Sparkenhoe is made my David and Jo Clarke of the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Co. on their farm in Upton. Unpasteurised milk from the previous day’s milking is used in an old recipe, traditional animal rennet is added, and traditional plant dye annatto used, to give the cheese its rich orange colour. The cloth-bound cheeses are matured for six months, giving it a nutty flavour with a citrus finish. It’s fab, come give it a try.