Anna Pickard: Stinking Bishop - officially Britain's smelliest cheese

Is cheese the only food where an overwhelmingly onerous odour is considered a virtue? And were the judges right, or is there another, smellier cheese?

According to breaking news this week, Stinking Bishop has been voted the most pungent cheese in the country by a panel of expert judges.

Which is great, but surely more remarkable is this is one of the only foodstuffs where 'rank and offputting' can can equal 'top flight culinary delight'. Or is it?

According to the Press Association, "the Stinking Bishop made by Charles Martell of Martell and Son in Gloucestershire blew the judges away and was described as smelling like a rugby club changing room."

Blowing away which judges? Well, apparently a set of professional judges, including a perfumier, who you would expect to know his odours, and a journalist, who presumably had a nose for a good story.

They were joined, it says, by a set of junior judges from Wells Cathedral School. Only the most sensitive noses were picked, it claims (or perhaps it was because they are eager choristers that put up their hands to volunteer first for everything, and didn't realise that this time it would involve subjecting themselves to an awful, dreadful stench. That'll teach 'em).

They all came together, smelled the cheese, and decided that though they "were all fantastically smelly", the Stinking Bishop was stinkiest. Proving, say the people who ran the competition that 'Britain equals anyone - and especially France - in the making of speciality cheeses'.

Does it really? Or does it simply mean that we can produce something that smells worse than a rugby club changing room and be PROUD about it?

I'm not denying that Stinking Bishop tastes good - it does: but how does it come to pass that cheese is one of the only food groups that gets to abide by its own 'that smells so bad I want to eat it all!' rule.

Is there any other type of food where you'd make that judgment?

"You know what? These oranges smell like a cat litter tray! I'll take five kilos!"

"Gosh, this pie is reminiscent of rotting corpses drizzled in motor oil - can I have another slice?"

"I say! This Merlot is evocative of nothing less than the putrid sputum of Satan himself, where DID you get it?"

In almost everything else, the smell that hits you first should put you right off. We have clever noses, noses that sense the acrid overtones or whiff of mould. And of course it does, for many people. Stinky cheese is something you grow into. You might have to train yourself to get past the onerous odour to reach the sometimes subtle surprise of the taste, but once you have, your brain accepts forever that the smell of rugby player's sweaty understrappings is a perfectly acceptable - if not simply exquisite - thing to be presented with on a cheese board.

And the interesting thing is that it doesn't ever become an attractive or alluring smell in its own right. We don't start chewing socks or sucking on jockstraps at the end of dinner parties because our brains have linked these things and say it's fine. It's ONLY when it's applied to cheese.

Or is it? Is there any other food that is excused its terrible smell in favour of its much more palatable taste? Maybe. But is there any other food that's so exalted because of it?

And enough of all that - were the expert judges with their expert noses correct? Is Stinking Bishop the smelliest cheese on the block? Have you had one smellier? And as the judges suggested, does stinky really equal special? And, dare I ask: is it always the smellier the better?


Anna Pickard

The GuardianTramp

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