Anyone who has seen the latest feat of clay from Nick Park, Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, will by now know the role played in the film by a mysterious cheese called Stinking Bishop. Many assume that this oddly named cheese is, like Wallace’s “Anti-Pesto” contraption, an invention of Nick Park’s imagination. However, Stinking Bishop is a real cheese and just one example of a large number of comestibles with episcopal names.
Its maker, Charles Martell, gave permission for his cheese to be used in the film, but has since had second thoughts. When an earlier film featured Wensleydale, production of that cheese quadrupled almost overnight and Martell claims that he cannot cope with any more demand.
Martell’s first interest is not even cheese, but cattle. He moved to Dymock, near Gloucester, in 1972 and had a keen interest in the Gloucester breed of cattle. At that time only 68 cows remained in the entire world. Charles bought as many as he could, revived the Gloucester Cattle Society, of which he is now the patron, and set about making cheese with the milk. The making of cheese was at first undertaken, not for the cheese itself but for the publicity it might bring to the cattle. The total number of female cows has now recovered to 450.
Stinking Bishop is said to be derived from a cheese once made by Cistercian monks in the village of Dymock and monks have always been associated with the production of washed rind cheeses. These are cheeses which – as the title suggests – are washed in a variety of liquids. They are generally full-flavoured with lively aromas. Stinking Bishop is no exception and uses perry as its wash. It has a sticky yellow-orange rind and smells of old socks. It is similar to the famous French Epoisses, which has been banned from the public transport system in Paris. The French are usually amazed to discover that Stinking Bishop is made in England.
The cheese takes its name, not from the alleged Cistercian connection, but from the variety of pear used to make the perry that forms the washing solution. Perry is pear cider, a beverage not much consumed nowadays, unless Babycham has made a secret comeback. During the cheese-making process the curds are washed in perry before being ladled into moulds. To increase the moisture content and to encourage bacterial activity, salt is not added until the cheeses are removed from the moulds. The cheese is then washed in more perry as it matures.
Another cheese with epis copal connections is the Normandy, Pont l’Evêque (Bishop’s Bridge), also a washed-rind cheese descended from a monastic ancestor. It is less pungent than Stinking Bishop, but rather similar in flavour.
Bishop Kennedy is a Scottish cheese, washed in whisky rather than perry, and similar to Reblochon. Its name comes from the 15th century Bishop of St Andrews.
As well as being a cheese and a variety of pear, there is also a hot toddy called Stinking Bishop, made by flambéing rum, cognac and sugar with lemon zest, then topping up with lemon juice and hot water.
Why it is called Stinking Bishop I have no idea, but it is undoubtedly a waste of good cognac. There are a number of variations of this drink, sometimes called Smoking Bishop or simply Bishop, none of which I would recommend. Luckily, the title of “bishop” turns up on the bar badges of quite a few English beers, most of which you probably would want to drink.
Bishop’s Finger is probably the best known and is brewed in Faversham by Shepherd Neame Brewery (the oldest in Britain). It is an artisan brew and, rather eccentrically, it is only brewed on Fridays by the Head Brewer in an antique Russian teak mash tun.
It is extremely good, but at 5.4 per cent alcohol by volume also rather strong. Bishop’s Finger is a unique beer in that it is the only beer in the world that is allowed to call itself a “Kentish Strong Ale”. It has been awarded Protective Geographic Indicator status by the European Union (the same classification that protects Brie and prevents Aunt Agatha from calling her elderflower wine “champagne”) because all the raw materials (the water, malt and hops) come from Kent.
What’s behind the name? Well, a Bishop’s Finger is an unusual finger-shaped signpost still found in Kent, which once pointed pilgrims on their way to Canterbury.
Continuing the theme, you might be able to track down Bishop’s Tipple, a beer relaunched in 1994. Bishop’s Tipple is named after, not a pear or a signpost, but a bishop.
It was first brewed by Gibbs Mew in 1973 to celebrate the inauguration of George Reindrop as Anglican Bishop of Salisbury. At 6.5 per cent ABV it is even stronger than Bishop’s Finger and lager-like in flavour thanks to the use of Saaz hops (a vital ingredient of Budweiser Budvar). Nowadays it is brewed by Wadworth in Devizes.
A brewery in Maryland brews DuClaw Mad Bishop, said to be similar in character to a German Altbier. Oakham Brewery in Peterborough has produced a beer called Bishop’s Farewell to mark the retirement of Bill Westwood, the Anglican Bishop of Peterborough, who had been a strong supporter of the Peterborough Beer Festival (now second only to the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia). And yes, it is an extra-strong brew, in other words extremely strong. Cameron’s in Hartlepool did the same for the retiring Bishop of Durham with their Bishop’s Brew, and the Anglo-French Le Brewery in Normandy makes a (strong!) stout named after Odo, Bishop of Bayeux. The prize for ecclesiastical beer names would have to go, however, to the aptly name Bishop’s Brewery of Borough Market in London (now sadly closed). In its heyday it brewed beers going by the names of Cathedral Bitter (popularly known as Southwark Sludge), Cathedral Mild, Cathedral Gold, Mitre, Holy Grail, Cardinal and (strongest of the lot) Cardinal Sin, which, I fear we may safely assume, was not named in honour of an eminent Filipino prelate.
The connection between beer and bishops is not only preserved by breweries looking for humorous names for their products, however. The Youth Forum of the Diocese of Brugge (in Belgium) worked with the Bavik Brewery to create a beer for their diocesan assembly three years ago. The young people of the diocese had to decide on the style of beer, and on the name.
They decided it had to be a “living” beer (for the Living Christ), which means re-fermented in the bottle and ready to age, “a beer that would loosen the tongue after just one glass”, and a beer with a beautiful glass resembling the chalice.
They thought of naming the beer after a saint but finally a priest came up with the idea of giving the beer the name of a “show-saint”: a hypocrite, one that seems to be a saint but is not.
Pilaar-bijter is the old Flemish name for a religious hypocrite, and “bijter” is also the name of the style of the beer. Two versions were created, and after much tasting by diocesan youth, a blond version at 7.5 per cent ABV and a dark version at 6.5 per cent ABV were offered to the bishop, who accepted Pilaarbijter as the official beer of the Diocese of Brugge.
A word of warning. If you fancy slaking your thirst with a cooling draught of Bishop Miklós Beer, you will be disappointed. For that is actually the name of the Bishop of Vac, in Hungary.