How the stinkiest cheese in the UK is made

  • Crowned the smelliest cheese in the UK, Stinking Bishop gets its distinctive smell thanks to perry, a pear cider, which is used to wash the rind of the cheese.
  • The result is a moldy exterior, a creamy texture, and an everlasting pungent smell.
  • We visited Charles Martell & Son in Dymock, Gloucestershire, the only farm in the world that makes this cheese, to find out what makes it (and the perry it bathes in) so unique.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Claudia Romeo: In the family of smelly cheeses, there are probably only a few that will really make you go - uh, ooh! Well, I have no doubt. For me, Stinking Bishop beats them all. Crowned the smelliest cheese in the UK, Stinking Bishop gets its distinctive smell thanks to perry, which is a pear cider used to wash the rind of the cheese. The result? A moldy exterior, a squidgy texture, and an everlasting pungent smell. We're in the pear orchards of Dymock, Gloucestershire, England, at the home of Stinking Bishop. It is from the fruits of these trees that the infamous perry cider is made. But while the perry gives the cheese its distinctive smell, I'm curious, will the cheese taste as strong as it smells? We're here to find out.
There is only one farm in the world that makes this cheese: Charles Martell & Son. And just like Stinking Bishop is a semi soft cheese, its recipe is semisecret. We know it starts with pasteurized cow's milk that is left in a vat for four hours with ferments and rennet. We also know that the rennet used is a vegetable rennet. This helps coagulate the milk without interfering with the flavor of the cheese, which an animal rennet would do. The milk comes from the local Gloucester cattle. The milk from this breed is particularly suited for cheesemaking because during the coagulation process, its cream doesn't rise to the surface and get lost within the whey. Rather, it stays down in the milk, and it will make the final cheese much richer. When the curd has reached the size of a nut, it is transferred into molds. This is the first secret step of the process. At the end of the molding, this tower of empty molds that you see behind me will be full of curd, and, after a certain amount of time that is also secret, the cheeses will be moved to the maturing room.
OK, this is the moment of the truth. Let's see.

Justyna Burford: Smelly?

Claudia: Uh, ooh! Mm! It - [laughs] Wow. Well, it's not as bad as I thought. It doesn't smell bad, it just has a strong smell, I think. Yeah, that's pungent.

Justyna: Lots of people describe it as old, smelly socks. And they say, "Ugh, disgusting." But actually, when you eat the cheese, it's really nice. And you can't taste the smell, you can just taste the cheese, which is nice and smooth.

Claudia: It fills up your nostrils and just stays there. [laughing] With that smell still very much up in my nostrils, Justyna talks me through the most important step of the making of Stinking Bishop: washing it in perry. [pouring liquid] This is done when the cheese is one day old. Old enough to hold its shape, but young enough to absorb the flavors of the perry. How often do you do this? How often do you wash it in perry? Justyna: Only once. Claudia: Only once? Oh, and that's enough just to make everything that the cheese is. Justyna: Yes.

Claudia: All right.

Justyna: Well, it's alcohol. And, also, you can smell the aroma of the perry. So you don't want to have this too strong at the same time.

Claudia: And this washing, is there a method to it? Or it's just, you know, [laughs] you caressing the cheese?

Justyna: Yes.

Claudia: And enjoying the work.

Justyna: Putting my love to it.
Claudia: Yesterday's work.

Justyna: Yes.

Claudia: The molds around the cheese are made of beech wood. You may ask, why? We don't know. That's another secret that the makers wouldn't share. My guess is that this helps the cheese keep its shape, of course, without being too rigid, and thus allowing the cheese to retain some moisture. Like other semisoft cheeses - and this we know for sure - Stinking Bishop wheels age for two to three weeks, and they are turned regularly to ensure both sides mature equally. So, this is the finished cheese that still smells, even though it's packaged.

Justyna: Yes, the cheese always smells, yes. So this is the ready cheese.

Claudia: Oh, wow. Oh, that's quite beautiful actually, no? Justyna: Yeah.

Claudia: It looks like one of those eye-shadow palettes or something. [Justyna laughs] It has nice shades of yellow and red.

Justyna: Yellow, red, yes. A bit of orange.

Claudia: Yeah, it's kind of sparkly, no? So, all this is because of the washing in perry, plus your secrets. [laughs]

Justyna: Yes, yes.

Claudia: I mean, is it a coincidence that the perry itself, it's kind of reddish?

Justyna: Yeah, it's probably coming a bit from the perry itself.
Claudia: So, what's the deal with this perry? Well, around Gloucestershire, there are over 100 varieties of perry pears, which are smaller than your average pear. I know, these are blossoms, but pears were not in season when we visited. Anyway, turning them into perry is quite a common thing here. The pear that Stinking Bishop bathes in is called ... Stinking Bishop. Unlike what you may think, this pear doesn't stink.

Charles Martell: Most perry pears are little hard things like that. You know, if you threw it at somebody and hit them, it'd hurt, because it's so heavy and dense little tiny things. But the Stinking Bishop pear is more pear shaped and more juicy and makes a good early perry. Because it's got high sugar, it ferments very quickly. And so it's got a reputation of being a very strong pear.

Claudia: All right.

Charles: Named after Mr. Bishop. Mr. Bishop was rather an unsavory character, and so he earned the name Stinking Bishop.

Claudia: All right, so that has nothing to do with actual bishops? Charles: With bishops, no. But bishops love it. Lots of bishops give each other presents of Stinking Bishop because they, they think it's funny. And it is, you know.

Claudia: Jokes, secrets, and smell aside, the story of Stinking Bishop is not really about making a cheese that will make headlines. Rather, it is about making something that could save its very source: the milk from Gloucester cattle, which risked disappearing.

Charles: Notice you got a black head and black legs, but the body's brown? That's the mark of the breed, and they've got this white stripe and a white tail.

Claudia: OK, so all Gloucester cows have a white tail?

Charles: White tail, yeah, little white strip and a white belly. Well, when I started here 50 years ago, there were 68 left in the world.

Claudia: In the world?

Charles: And I thought, gosh, you know, they can't be let to become extinct. How can I help them? I managed to get hold of three, which I milked by hand. And I thought, I know, they're originally a cheesemaking breed. We'll make cheese. It was my way of helping the breed survive. Not just by breeding them, but by using them. And that's the way they'll survive: if we use them.
Claudia: Oh, thank you. So, do you eat the rind?

Charles: Yes. That's where the most intense part of the flavor is.

Claudia: Oh, all right. So let's just have ... Oh.

Charles: A bit cold.

Claudia: I love it. It's really nice. Charles: Flavor's gone in, isn't it?

Claudia: Yeah. No smell at all.

Charles: No?

Claudia: No, I mean -

Charles: Not supposed to say that.

Claudia: You know, like when you say you can't taste the smell because the smell can put you off, but this taste, I really love it. I don't know, it reminds me of some cheese that I used to eat when I was a child. It's just the texture in your mouth. A bit creamy, but not too runny. So not too messy. [laughs]

Charles: The flavor goes in from the rind, obviously. 'Cause on the rind is the culture, which is where you get the flavor.
Claudia: Yeah. The building where we're tasting the cheese is a distillery, and, yes, you guessed it, this is where perry is made. Charles tells me that his distillery is 400 years old. He even showed me some property documents from 1810.

Charles: Built in 1650. So it's the oldest original distilling house still working in the British Isles.

Claudia: Oh, is it?

Charles: We know of no other older.

Claudia: The pear cider, or perry, that is used to wash the rind of the cheese is later turned into this sweet pear spirit called Poireau, which is made out of perry and fresh pear juice. Charles: Cheers. [laughs] How do you say it in Italian?

Claudia: Salute.

Charles: Salute.

Claudia: Sweet.

Charles: It's sweet, but not sugar sweet, that's a pear sweet. I know, baby, I know. [birds chirping]

Claudia: It's so peaceful here.

Charles: Yeah. Yes. Those are the peace. [Claudia laughs] They're peaceful.