Words by Travis Blake
An award winning Cheese Maker producing an historical and geographically important British Cheese!
Ah, cheese, a famous favourite food stuff that has passed in to our very own folklore complete with catchphrases, “Cheese Gromit” and of course Monty Python’s classic film Life of Brian and its parody of the Sermon on the Mount, “I think it was, blessed are the Cheesemakers” and is a product that has been with us for a very long time. Cheese is ancient and as such actually pre-dates history so we cannot really say how long we have been eating it or even where it originates, so there is a mystery as to how and where it came to be. A good guess as to the beginning of cheese being made would be around the time that sheep, due to it being milk based, were first domesticated which is reckoned to be 8000 B.C.
There are over one thousand different types of cheese made in many different countries around the world and their textures and flavours depend on where the milk used comes from including the animal that produces the milks diet. Incredibly, we like cheese so much that almost twenty million tonnes of the stuff is produced worldwide annually. The largest producer of cheese is the United States, with Germany second and then unsurprisingly France and Italy, with United Kingdom well placed in the top twenty.
Let us go in search of a rare and fine British cheese and an artisanal British cheese maker. To do this we are going to Dorset, as I have been tipped off (thank you Miss Jackson) that in leafy Sturminster Newton I will find Woodbridge Farm, home to the world famous Dorset Blue Vinny and its cheese making masters. Woodbridge Farm, in Stock Gaylard, is home to the Davies family and has been for over forty years, and it was here that the old recipe for Dorset Blue Vinny was recreated and tweaked, as the cheese had been extinct for many years. The farm itself is on the 580 acre Stock Estate and is home to 270 Holstein Friesian Cows which produce the milk that makes the Dorset Blue Vinny cheese and this means that the milk used only travels about 100 metres from the dairy to the cheese room.
Historically in almost every farmhouse in Dorset the Farmer’s Wife would produce Blue Vinny cheese, after skimming off the milk to make butter any that was left over would be used up to make the cheese so that none of the milk was going to waste. But production of the cheese is said to have died out almost entirely during the austere times of rationing in the Second World War due to the levels of scarcity that came with this period. Rumour has it that one may have been able to obtain some of this precious Dorset Blue Vinny, with a nod, wink and a word in the right direction but generally speaking it was pretty much unobtainable, there was even word that it been banned altogether.
In the early 1980s Michael Davies began to produce Dorset Blue Vinny at Woodbridge Farm using a three hundred year old recipe, making the cheese in his garage and using the farmhouse larder for the cheese to mature and managing to turn the cornflakes blue in the process, due to the penicillin mould used in the cheese’s production. The cheese is now produced outside of the larder, and each cheese takes around twenty four hours to make and is then matured for several weeks with each truckle being turned by hand up to ninety times in the process which will prevent the cheese developing a soggy bottom. Using milk from the farm that has been pasteurised and hand skimmed, this is used as a starter culture to which rennet and penicillin mould is added, from this point it is ready to be made into cheese. The cheese is left to coagulate and is then cut into small pieces to form curds and whey overnight, the whey is then drained off and removed so that the curds can be ground, salted and put into moulds to be shaped for a few days before moving along the process to the all-important maturing room. In order to increase the flavour of the cheese air is introduced, which helps the mould grow, by spiking the cheese with long narrow pins. The whole process up to maturity of the cheese can take twenty weeks, at which point when ripened and mature it is ready to eat, hurrah! The family farm is now run by Richard Davies, Michaels’s son as Michael concentrates on cheese making full time.
Not only is Dorset Blue Vinny solely commercially produced at Woodbridge Farm in Sturminster Newton, in 1998 it was awarded PGI Status (Protected Geographical Indication) roughly meaning that it can only be produced there. This of course is not the only award that this unique Dorset Blue Vinny has received, in 2019 with a mighty score of 98 out of a possible 100 the cheese won Best in class at the Artisan Cheese Awards, with the Judges commenting on its smooth texture, great flavour and describing Dorset Blue Vinny as almost perfect. In 2018 at the World Cheese Awards in Bergen, Norway, Dorset Blue Vinny won a Gold Award and also in the very same year it won Best Blue at the British Cheese Awards and also picked up the People’s Choice which is a great accolade indeed!
Why is it called Vinny I hear you ask, as the Dorset and Blue are self-explanatory, well, it is thought to derive from the old English word “Vinew” meaning to become mouldy, and the cheese is also believed to have been the favourite cheese of Thomas Hardy, that’s the Lord Nelson one for reference.
And that classic van, make, model and year, answers on a postcard please, here’s a tenuous clue “think of the Editor’s name”, could it be called Nigel?
I don’t know about you but all this talk of cheese has got me going crackers, if you want to find out more about this unique cheese and cheesemaker visit their website or give them a call at the details below, and check to see if you are lucky enough to have a stockist nearby. Of course, it is not all about cheese, you will also find a trio of chutneys plus the wonderfully tasty Dorset Blue Soup, yummy!
www.dorsetblue.com / 01963 23133