We've twice mentioned Dorset Blue Vinney (or Vinny) on this blog recently. It’s a cracking blue cheese that the Well Seasoned team have been enjoying for years and an obvious choice when we're looking for something a little more imaginative that the traditional Stilton. But our last blog post elicited two contacts from readers who hadn't heard of the cheese and who wanted to know a bit more. Never ones to ignore a polite request, we're very happy to tell you everything we know about DBV (as we're now calling it, to save our typing fingers).
As we (also) mentioned recently, there are more than 700 cheeses made in the UK so you might well argue that no single fromage deserves a homage of its own, but indulge us a little; this cheese has a mysterious story to tell...
DBV is crumbly, like a well-aged, good stilton and has a similarly punchy smell but is slightly more peppery in flavour and deeper yellow in colour. The exact etymological route of the "vinney" part is the subject of some debate. There are two old English words - vinew and fyne - both meaning mould - which might account for it. But it might also be a simpler corruption of "veiny" due to the rich blue-green streaks running through it.
The original recipe dates back some 300 years. Many small Dorset farms made DBV from the skimmed milk that was left over after butter making. In those days it was good butter that attracted a premium price - the cheese was something of a cheap by-product, made only because the market for fresh milk was much smaller in those days (because of the lack of refrigeration).
By all accounts the flavour of traditional DBV was very variable and some didn't taste good at all. The crumbly texture is due to the fact that it is made from skimmed milk and so much lower in fat that other cheeses. As a result of this and other factors, it gained something of a bad reputation.
Two apocryphal stories persist locally - the first is that the cheeses were so hard that they were occasionally used as spare wheels for farmers’ wheelbarrows. The second is that a Dorset cheesemonger with too much stock once left surplus truckles of DBV on his doorstep in the hope that they would be stolen. They duly disappeared overnight, only to be returned the next evening once the thieves has tasted it! Other more plausible (but also unproven) tales suggest that it was Thomas Hardy's favourite cheese.
The DBV story gets darker. It is said that (again, because skimmed milk was used), the cheese didn't develop its mould naturally. Because the required strain of penicillin grows well on old leather, various unsavoury methods were used to encourage its growth, allegedly included dragging mouldy horse harnesses through the milk vats or storing the cheese next to old farm workers boots.
The manufacture of DBV started to die out at some point around the Second World War. The exact reasons aren’t clear but it was probably a combination of factors - the questionable methods of production may have led to health scares, including tuberculosis which was prevelant at the time. Other accounts say that the Milk Marketing Board disapproved of its manufacture. It is frequently claimed that that production was explicitly banned but it is hard to find concrete evidence of this. In any event, it certainly went into significant decline and then went underground. From the 1950s onwards, the cheese was very difficult to get hold of. It was spoken about in hushed tones and available only on the black market, through clandestine networks. Dorset residents would order it through trusted local suppliers and it would be quietly delivered to their doorsteps overnight. Any enquiries from tourists or health inspectors would be met with blank looks and denials. Because of this secret history, the date when production finally ceased is uncertain but certainly by the 1970s it was, to all intents and purposes, extinct.
Only relatively recently (in the 1980s) was commercial manufacture of DBV revived. These days the (very safe but still unpasteurised) cheese is manufactured by milk farmer Michael Davies at Woodbridge Farm near Sturminster Newton (where, incidentally, Thomas Hardy once lived). As a direct result of some imaginative Stilton makers looking for a new marketing angle a few years ago, Mr Davies applied for and got Protected Geographical Status for the cheese, meaning it must now be made in Dorset to bear the name. (The canny Stilton scoundrel originally avoided a prosecution by taking his "Dorset Blue" cheese to the county to be stored for 10 days before sale!)
Woodbridge Farm are as faithful to the original recipe as they can hygienically be, even making the cheese with milk taken at the morning milking (which is lower in fat). Thankfully, there's not a leather boot in sight. You'll now find this version in good cheese shops (although they might have to order it in) and it's well worth a try; the days of variable quality and rock hard texture are also long gone.
Despite the potential health consequences, we'd be interested to taste some authentic DBV. If any reader happens to know someone making it the old-fashioned way, do drop us a line.
Naturally, we’d expect them to deny it…