If your reaction was, ‘Nope, don’t like strong stinky cheeses’ then you’re not alone.
Stinking Bishop is a washed-rind cheese. All this means is that the cheese is ‘washed’, or ‘bathed’, in a solution of either salt or alcohol (such as cider, beer, wine or brandy). This promotes the growth of mould on the cheese surface typical of such cheeses that lend them their typical orange colouring, including Brevibacterium linens. This mould gives washed rind cheeses their classic aromas.
Stinking Bishop became notorious in 2005 after Wallace was resurrected from the dead by the cheese being held under his nose in Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Demand for the cheese rose so much that Charles Martell now employs two full-time people to make it!
Unfortunately Stinking Bishop’s 15-seconds of fame did other washed rind cheeses no favour.
Such cheeses are now seen as being the ‘joke’ of the cheese counter. This is also not helped by celebrity chefs such as the US-based Andrew Zimmerman who included one (yep, you guessed it, Stinking Bishop) on his TV show, Bizarre Foods.
Washed rind cheeses can be something quite special, either on a cheese board, or simply as a quick snack. Take, for example, Francis. This is a new cheese, made by James McCall (Twitter and website) in Dorset. James takes Lyburn Farmhouse Cheese’s (check out Head Cheese Maker, Paul Thomas, on Twitter) Stoney Cross and washes it to produce something quite special! So special that at this year’s Great British Cheese Awards it beat many others to become Best New Cheese, very well deserved!
So, the cheese world doesn’t see washed rind cheeses as a joke, why do so many of the cheese-loving public?
As with many things, I have a theory on this. Unfortunately, many delis and farm shops that sell a wide range of goodies, training and appreciation on all products can be near impossible for the entire team, especially if they don’t get the opportunity to constantly taste the wares they are expected to sell. Therefore, when it comes to the washed rinds, they get sold purely on their ‘stinkiness’.
What, therefore customers fail to get informed of is the amazing depths of flavours that washed rinds can offer. Francis, for example, offers phenomenal ‘appley’ and buttery flavours with a slight tang to finish it off. And, Stinking Bishop, offers not dissimilar flavours with its rich fruitiness and creamy texture.
What, for me, sets washed rinds apart is their ability to surprise. After all, would you open a bottle of the finest Riesling and after describing the aromas as being similar to Father Jack’s breath, and then continue to drink it? Probably not! Washed rind cheeses can smell quite spectacularly strong, but they will almost always surprise you in their ability to offer up the most delicate of flavours, to the point where your brain, hard-wired to not eat ‘stinky’ foods as they may be poisonous, forgives the aromas and tells you that you will enjoy it!
So, give washed rind cheeses a chance on your next cheese board. You will not be disappointed.
Francis, by the way, is named after legendary cheese maker and monger Francis James Aldridge (click here for an obituary).
Incidentally, Stinking Bishop does not get its name from its aroma. The cheese is washed in perry made from a variety of pear called Stinking Bishop. The pear gets its name from Frederick Bishop, who earned the name ‘Stinking Bishop’ due to his riotous behaviour in the mid-1800s. He once decreed that he would drink the proceeds of taking his cow to market. He did! Subsequently when his kettle wasn’t boiling quickly enough for him, he shot it. There’s a moral in there somewhere, surely involving keeping a Briton from his/her tea… On that note, more tea Bishop, or perhaps a piece of Francis and a glass of Riesling?
This is a slightly edited version that was originally published on the wonderful Lover of Creating Flavours site.