After WWII British artisan cheese-making was nearly dead. Cheddar-ish cheeses had supplanted everything else during the conflict. But combinations of tradition, ingenuity, curiosity and necessity eventually saw the revival of old styles and the invention of new. Stinking Bishop, made on one farm in Dymock, Gloucestershire, has a touch of both old and new about it.
The cheese is made from the milk of Gloucester cattle, once on the brink of extinction but saved from that fate by the man who developed Stinking Bishop, Charles Martell, plus milk from selected Friesian cows. It is made in the washed-rind style supposedly favoured by Cistercian monks who once lived in the district, the product having the appearance of cheeses like Pont l’Eveque. The liquid used for this washing, which is done several times as the cheese matures, is perry made from the Moorcroft pear grown locally. In Dymock, however, the story goes that the pear is better known by the name Stinking Bishop, as it was bred by a Mr Bishop who had a legendarily stinking temper. The yellowy-orange-rinded cheese takes its name from the pear.
The flavour of Stinking Bishop is nutty, on the sweet side, and very deep – this is not a cheese which disappears from the palate quickly. But far more powerful is its smell: the polite might say it reeks of teen trainers; the impolite go much further. If you ever want to convince a Frenchman we make unashamedly characterful cheese, this is the one: it laughs at Vieux Cantal; kicks sand in the face of Crème de Roquefort; but in mutual respect touches fists with Epoisses, perhaps the only thing anywhere close to it.