Cheese out of the blue
Only one person makes traditional Dorset
Blue Vinny cheese – and hes a farmer. He
sells it through a host of top outlets and
now is bringing it to a wider public at
farmers markets. Tim Relf reports
EXCUSE the pun," says Michael Davies, "but it started out of the blue."
Hes talking about the origins of his Dorset Blue Vinny cheesemaking business at Woodbridge Farm, Bishops Caundle.
Though long-since associated with the area – and even referred to in the writings of Thomas Hardy – the cheese had disappeared until Michael resurrected it 15 years ago. It was, he recalls, a time of milk surpluses. "I wondered what on earth I was doing getting up every morning producing something nobody wanted."
So, having been trained in cheese and buttermaking at college, he set about rejuvenating this low-fat product.
"The names got a wonderful ring. Its full of mystique. People search for ages to try and find it," he says.
* Serious business
"Its very appealing that I am doing something that nobody else is doing. Mind you, I dont think any other daft bugger wants to make it," he says, laughing. But its a serious business – and Michael takes it very seriously.
Now, he makes about half a tonne a week. The method employed is the traditional one – skimming off cream from the mornings milk, then adding skim milk powder to lower the butterfat.
It took, he reckons, years to perfect. "You never ever relax when you are making cheese. Every batch is different."
He sells it to, among other places, top London outlets and local Waitrose supermarkets. Farmers markets are also the latest marketing method – with visits to Sturminster Newton, Shaftesbury and Blandford Forum. "Wherever we go, its a hit," he says. And its by no means a cheap cheese, either, costing between £7 and £13/kg.
The plan now is to up the amount of milk used from the 180-cow herd from a quarter to nearly a half. "If the market is there, you might just as well try and capitalise on it."
People, he reckons, are interested in British farm produce. They like things that are unique. "If it tastes nice and looks nice, it will sell itself."
But theres a difficult balance to be kept. Raise production Michael may want to; but its a niche product – and he wants to keep it that way. "We want to keep the mystique."
And mystique there certainly is in plenty. "There is not another Dorset Blue Vinny cheesemaker in the whole world," says Michael. "Its very exciting."
Just a shame, he adds – and at this point the smile disappears from his face – that the rest of farming isnt so exciting at the moment.
Blue chip company… Priscilla Vining and Di Best at work in the dairy at Woodbridge Farm.
Milky way… Michael Davies is expanding the business.