Dorset Blue Vinny was the first cheese I ever wrote about on this blog. At that point, I was planning to find out about cheeses from all over the world but, as I researched the Vinny, I realised that, cheese-wise, there was enough history and variety on the British Isles to keep me going for some time. Nearly four years later and there’s still about 500 cheeses I have yet to track down!
Blue Vinny was traditionally made with the skimmed milk left over from the county’s butter-making industry. ‘Vinny’ is thought to come from the Old English for mould, vinew. Historical efforts to encourage blueing in the cheese bordered on the stomach-churning. Patrick Rance talks of ‘accounts of natural blueing from mouldy old boots kept purposely alongside ripening cheeses’, of badly designed drainage in farm buildings encouraging ‘the added sharp gift of ammoniac vapour from below’ and ‘the drawing of mouldy harness through the milk in the vat before cheesemaking began, thus ensuring a spread of vinew throughout the cheese’. It was renowned as such a hard, dry cheese that wheelbarrows and even trains were said to use the cheese as wheels. It died out during the twentieth century, before being reinvented in 1980 by Dorset cheese-maker Mike Davies.
Fortunately, Mike elected to keep the traditional flavour of the cheese but lose the environmental health hazards and rock-hardness. Here, it’s made into a hearty winter soup with seasonal parsnips and kale, and cannellini beans to make it a meal-in-one.
100g dried cannellini beans, soaked, boiled and ready to use (or you could use a 400g tin)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
300g parsnips, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
200g potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks
500ml stock (vegetable or chicken)
100g kale, stripped from the main stems and finely chopped
50g Dorset Blue Vinny, chopped or crumbled
Salt and pepper to season
Gently fry the onion, parsnips and potatoes in the olive oil in a large pan or pot until the vegetables are starting to soften.
Add the stock and cook for about 15 minutes before adding the kale and cooking for another 5 minutes. By this point, the potatoes and parsnips should be completely soft. For a chunkier soup give it all a good mash; I put mine through a liquidizer. Add the beans and three quarters of the cheese, check for seasoning and cook for another five minutes to heat the beans through and distribute the cheese.
Serve hot with more of the Vinny sprinkled on the top.