Stinking Bishops – the aroma of fine dining
By Alec Smart
The Stinking Bishops is an unusually-named diner in the heart of Enmore Rd, Newtown. But don’t let the name put you off. It’s not run by a religious order and it doesn’t assault your olfactory senses, although Stinking Bishops is named after an infamously fragrant cheese that is hand-made in Gloucestershire, England (see history below, as well as an amusing link to animated characters Wallace and Gromit).
Located on the northern side of Enmore Rd, 400 metres walk from Newtown Station, The Stinking Bishops resembles a small, exotic wine bar.
To call the Stinking Bishops a restaurant is an understatement – it’s an appetising adventure for appreciators of cheese!
In the words of owner-manager Valentina Massaccesi, “The Stinking Bishops is a culinary journey of cheese exploration where cheese lovers embark on a tantalising journey of flavours and textures…. It is a sanctuary where cheese aficionados come together, bonding over their shared love for all things cheesy.”
Although the artisanal Stinking Bishop cheese that inspired the name is currently unavailable in Australia, Valentina and her partner, co-owner Stefano Voltattorni, have sourced a delightful equivalent, along with a fascinating choice of other dairy delights.
“We curate a selection of the finest local and international cheeses,” she explained. “We are also famous for our delicious mac ‘n' cheese, cheese soufflé, baked camembert, and Italian style porchetta [pronounced ‘porketta’, a traditional pork dish from the Lazio region that is stuffed with herbs and roasted for many hours, resulting in a crackling skin].”
Stinking Bishops owner-managers Stefano Voltattorni and Valentina Massaccesi. Photo: SB
So what might you expect when you enter the premises?
“Our knowledgeable cheesemongers are always at hand, ready to guide you through this sensory adventure,” Valentina revealed, “with pairing suggestions that will elevate your cheese encounters to new heights.
“We have recently introduced a Cheese and Wine pairing experience, now available during happy hour Tue – Fri, 5 - 6pm, as well as for private functions and offsite catering.”
Hold on, cheese and wine pairing – what does that entail?
“All our cheese and wine pairing are designed to balance the taste of both in your mouth,” Valentina explained. “A ‘sweet’ ends notes wine (like vanilla notes from the oak) can go well with a salty cheese; a wine with high acidity will go very well with a creamy cheese; a grassy Sauvignon Blanc will work well with goat's cheeses, generally speaking.
“Essentially, the astringency of the wine (which causes your mouth to pucker) cuts through the fattiness of the cheese (which creates a slippery sensation in your mouth) to create a naturally balanced mouthfeel.
She continued, “cheeses, unlike classic food, are a little more complicated to combine with wines due to the thousand nuances, pairings that are not done properly can give a ferrous result in the mouth, which absolutely makes it clear that it is not balanced. “Stefano and I taste cheese every day to grow our knowledge, but mainly to understand the taste and the flavours to be able to pair them with the right wine. Once you know how it works, it comes naturally organising combinations.
“With regular events, tastings, and workshops, we foster a community of like-minded individuals, united by their appetite for exploration and the desire to deepen their understanding of cheese,” Valentina declared.
“We also cater for offices/events with vibrant ‘grazing’ tables, and offer a variety of hampers and grazing boxes in different shapes for all celebrations.”
Furthermore, The Stinking Bishops retail all their cheese and charcuterie separately in their on-site delicatessen, should you wish to take home a selection.
So, whether you’re a connoisseur or merely curious, The Stinking Bishops welcomes you to embark on a culinary journey for an extraordinary cheese experience.
The Stinking Bishops website: www.thestinkingbishops.com
Stefano Voltattorni with some of the cheeses available to take home. Photo: SB
Some cheesy facts
Varieties: There are around 2,000 cheese types in the world, of which France is estimated to make up to 1600 varieties.
Origins: Although sheep and goats were domesticated in the Middle East approximately 10,500 years ago, the first evidence of cheesemaking appears in the art on Egyptian tomb walls that date back 4,000 years.
Rarest and most expensive: Pule cheese is a blend of 60% Balkan donkey milk and 40% goat's milk. Only produced in a boggy wetland in central Serbia, it requires 25 litres of milk to produce a single kilogram and retails for around $2000 a kilogram.
Most Popular: The most commonly eaten cheese in the world is Mozzarella, mainly due to its presence in pizzas, although countless pasta dishes call for its inclusion, as well as enchiladas, frittatas and risottos.
Other top-sellers include Cheddar, Parmesan, Paneer, Feta, Ricotta, Gorgonzola, Camembert, and Brie.
Smelliest: While Stinking Bishop is in most top 20 lists of the stinkiest cheeses of the world, others include Taleggio (Italy), Stilton (England), Limburger (Belgium), Robiola Lombardia (Italy) and Schloss (Austria), while France produces so many malodorous varieties that the authorities have prohibited the consumption of some on public transport.
The French examples include Roquefort, Brie de Meaux, Epoisses de Bourgogne, Muenster, Camembert, Pont l’Eveque, Vieux Lille, Tomme de Chevre, Ami Du Chambertin, Le Pavin d'Auvergne, Pont l'Evêque, and Soumaintrain Berthaut.
Screenshot from the animated feature film Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Wallace and Gromit
Stinking Bishop cheese gained international attention after it was associated with the stop-motion animated comedy duo, Wallace and Gromit.
Created by Nick Park and Aardman Animations (Shaun the Sheep, Chicken Run, Flushed Away, etc.), the TV series and films feature an eccentric inventor and his highly intelligent beagle dog.
Moulded from plasticene models, which are laboriously moved and individually photographed, the gadget-making, cheese-loving duo usually consume Wensleydale, sourced from North Yorkshire (where Wallace’s distinctive accent originates).
However, in the 2005 internationally-successful and multi award-winning feature film The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, there is a key scene involving a wheel of Stinking Bishop cheese.
Without spoiling the plot, it can be revealed that Gromit, the ever-faithful hound, revives his unconscious master at a country fair with the nearest equivalent of smelling salts.
He grabs a wedge of the infamous smelly cheese from a display stand and waves it under Wallace’s nose. Wallace then awakens and takes a revitalising bite, declaring, “I’m back! Gromit, you clever mutt! Well done old pal!”
Prior to the film’s release, Stinking Bishops manufacturer Charles Martell bemoaned the exposure, worrying public demand would require they abandon their limited-edition artisanal cheese for a supermarket-friendly, mass-produced product.
However, although the publicity did wonders for their sales, the dairy delight has retained its reputation as a specialised, hand-crafted entity.
Screenshot from the animated feature film Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Stinking Bishops – origins of the strange name
On 27 May 2009, at the inaugural (and so far as I know never repeated) Britain's Smelliest Cheese Championships held at The Royal Bath and West Show in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England, the infamous Stinking Bishop cheese from Gloucestershire knocked out its rank-smelling rivals to gain gold status.
The founder of Stinking Bishops cheese, Charles Martell, could have been inspired to name his aromatic product a colourful adjective, such as ‘smelly socks’, ‘swampy armpits’, ‘tangy toes’, but instead he named it after a type of pear that is brewed to make a perry (pear cider).
Why? To answer that we need to wind the clock to 1972 when Martell began making a cheese from the milk of the Old Gloucester breed of cattle, which he almost single-handedly brought back from near-extinction (just 68 cows were still alive in 1972!).
Stinking Bishop was created at Hunts Court Farm in Dymock, Gloucestershire, where it’s still made. During the ripening process, the cheese is formed into 2kg wheels then immersed in a perry four times over the succeeding months as it ripens. The rinsing produces a bacterium - Brevibacterium linens - that causes its characteristic pungent odour that resembles sweaty socks.
The end result is a divinely-flavoured soft cheese with the consistency of clotted cream, albeit with a pale orange rind that is somewhat challenging on the nostrils (don’t consume it on public transport or in a crowded room!).
Stinking Bishop cheese - the original whiffy dairy product from which the Sydney restaurant is named
The fermented pear juice that Martell’s dairy uses comes from a variety of pear known as Stinking Bishop - hence the origin of the name of his infamous cheese.
But how did the pear come to have such a strange name, especially as the fruit isn’t particularly fragrant.
For the answer to this we have to wind the clock back another 150+ years, although we only need travel a few miles north into the county of Herefordshire.
Stinking Bishop pear, Pyrus communis (also known as the Moorcroft or Malvern pear), was grown by farmer Frederick Bishop in the early 19th century near Ledbury village in the Malvern Hills of Western England.
Bishop grew the pears on his property, Moorcroft Farm, and brewed a perry to supply his love of liquor.
Farmer Bishop cultivated the variant with reduced acidity and more prominent flavours, which made it popular among regional perry brewers.
However, he reportedly had a difficult demeanour and an effluvium that hung about him from poor hygiene – both of which contributed to his nom de plume as ‘Stinking’ Bishop.
According to legend, Bishop was infamously irascible when intoxicated - which was often! Charles Martell recalled an urban legend when the cantankerous cultivator blasted his kettle with a shotgun when it wouldn’t boil fast enough!
Some of the cheese and charcuterie options available at The Stinking Bishop in Newtown, Sydney.