There are many myths revolving around the making of arguably Dorset’s finest cheese – the Blue Vinny. Tales abound of orders placed by moonlight, deliveries made in secret and (rather less palatably) – the use of old horses harnesses being dragged through the milk to give it its characteristic flavour. Whatever the history, Blue Vinny is now a well-renowned cheese, quite hard and crumbly, with a beautiful mellow blue flavour. It is one of my favourite cheeses (much better than Stilton!) and as much as I love to eat it on its own, I also love to cook with it.
My two favourite recipes for Blue Vinny are both inspired (or taken from) TV chefs. Sometime back when River Cottage was still a small holding dream, rather than the enormous enterprise it is today, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a little competition with a local cheesemaker’s daughter to see who could come up with the best Blue Vinny accompaniment to some purple-sprouting broccoli. The two sauces they chose as the victors – and took to the local farmer’s market – were a creme fraiche, honey & thyme one, and a hot blue cheese and bacon one. The hot sauce won overall victory in the end, but it got me thinking – why not combine the flavours? After a little kitchen experimentation I came up with a delectable hot sauce – crispy bacon lardons fried with thyme and seasoned with honey, stirred together with handfuls of grated Blue Vinny and a dollop of cream. The result is divine, but as it is clearly so calorific merely writing about it has made me gain a pound or two, I save it for special occasions, and only make it when I have an obscene glut of purple sprouting broccoli on my hands.*
My other favourite recipe for Blue Vinny comes from Mr Rick Stein. Blue Vinny has such a fantastic savoury saltiness it cries out for something sweet and juicy to go with it, and some perfectly ripe vine tomatoes are just the thing. This tart combines the two together. Oven-roasting the tomatoes before assembling the tart dries them out and stops the pastry becoming wet and claggy, and it also concentrates the flavours. A sprinkling of rocket on top at the end adds an intense peppery bitterness that rounds off the whole dish.
You could serve the tart in small slices as part of a buffet menu, or as a side dish alongside something meaty, but I like it in a nice big piece, on its own as a light supper. If I was vegetarian, I think I’d eat this every day.**
This is my (slightly adapted) version of his recipe:
750g ripe tomatoes
1 sheet or block all-butter puff pastry
100g Blue Vinny cheese
Extra-virgin Olive oil
Handful of rocket
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
Slice the tomatoes in half lengthways, and arrange them on a baking tray or shallow-sided dish so that they are in a single layer, quite tightly packed. Splash over liberal amounts of oil and shake the dish so that each tomato is slick with it. Sprinkle over plenty of sea salt and pepper. Roast the tomatoes in the oven for about 2 hours at 150C/Gas 2, until they are really quite shrivelled but not turned black. Make sure you get them out whilst you can still remove them from the dish without them collapsing on you.
Turn up the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Roll out the pastry to a single layer, prick all over with a fork and bake on a lightly oiled sheet for 20 minutes until nice and golden and puffy.
Arrange the tomatoes on the pastry, leaving a border all around the edge, and crumble over the cheese. Carefully spoon over the oil from the roasting tin (or some extra from the bottle) so that both pastry and tomatoes get a little drizzling, and return to the oven for a bare 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted.
Cut into slices and sprinkle some rocket leaves on top, along with any remaining oil from the tomato roasting, before serving.
*Purple sprouting broccoli is in season from mid-feb through to April. Check back then for the sauce recipe! ↑
**I feel duty bound to say that, as with many artisanal cheeses, Blue Vinny is often made with rennet, which is not a vegetarian-suitable product. Check with your cheesemonger before buying if you avoid that kind thing! ↑