As an example of truth in marketing, Charles Martell’s Stinking Bishop cheese is tough to beat – it really does stink enough to waken the dead, according to the Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit film The Curse of the Were Rabbit. which climaxes with Gromit reviving his master by waving a wedge of the cheese under his nose, whereupon the aroma of three-month-old unwashed socks drags Wallace back to life.
Stinking Bishop is the name of the pear, more properly called the Moorcroft pear, used to make the perry that is used to wash the rinds of the ripening Stinking Bishop cheeses at Mr Martell’s Laurel farm in Dymock, Gloucestershire. The washing with perry encourages bacterial growth on the rinds, and the bacteria produce the pong, though the cheese itself, made in part with milk from rare Gloucester cows, is delicious. It’s one of the few cheeses I’d hesitate to eat with beer: because of how it’s made, a sharp, dry perry is probably the best companion. However, a sulphury Burton bitter, particularly Marston’s Pedigree, also makes a good match: pong against pong.
Mr Martell’s other offerings include Hereford Hop cheese, covered in toasted, pressed hops, another cracking product just the crumbly side of firm. It makes excellent cheese on muffins, terrific for afternoon tea with Timothy Taylor’s Landlord bitter from Yorkshire, itself one of the most perfectly balanced matches of hop and malt flavours I know.
All beers go with cheese, the carbonation and the bitter hops preventing the palate from getting too clogged, though Yorkshire beers (and I say this as a southerner) do seem to pair particularly well with cheeses, especially with Yorkshire cheeses: try Swaledale with Black Sheep bitter for example (and if you can find the rarer ewe’s milk Swaledale, you’ll be eating sheep’s cheese with sheep’s beer …) Here’s half a dozen pairings, however, that include only one Yorkshire beer: some are not great beers, some are not great cheeses, but all are excellent combinations that are certainly grater than the sum of their parts.
- Fuller Smith & Turner’s Vintage Ale with mature Gouda. A strong-tasting, hard cheese like a well-aged Gouda, meant for nibbling, needs a beer that will match it punch for punch. Vintage Ale, particularly one that has itself been left to mature for three or four years, is that beer, combining power with subtlety. I was stunned when I first tried these two (aged Gouda courtesy of a pal who is a cheese buyer for a very middle-class oriented supermarket chain) at what a tremendous combination they were.
- Burton ale with Cheddar. Dry, sharp farmhouse cider actually sits well alongside matured Cheddar, but so does Burton, the slightly sweet, slightly darker ale brewers in Burton upon Trent made in the 19th century (before they were turned on to proper pale ales), which was copied by brewers from Dorset to Yorkshire. Burton was still a popular beer in Britain until the 1950s, but it has almost vanished since then: two good surviving examples are Theakston’s Old Peculier, and the Scottish equivalent of Burton, Edinburgh Ale, as represented by McEwan’s Champion. Try this duo with walnuts …
- Golden barley wine with Gorgonzola. There isn’t a wine in the world, except perhaps a botrytis-affected sweet dessert wine, that can stand up to Gorgonzola, but the paler varieties of barley wine will, such as (if you can find it) the bottled version of Whitbread Gold Label: not a fantastic beer, but with something as overwhelming as a ripe blue cheese, what you want is a beer with guts and not much else. Curiously, darker barley wines and strong stouts fail: the caramelly and chocolaty/coffee flavours won’t match the cheese at all.
- Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale with Stilton. You’re in hop heaven with Sierra Nevada Celebration, an American “extreme” pale ale, and it’s the beer to tackle Stilton: once again it’s the ability of hops to give the palate a good scrubbing ready for the next bite of cheese that makes this work so well – oh, and also Sierra Nevada Celebration is a very fine, balanced, exhilarating beer.
- Bavarian wheat beer with Cambozola. Nobody would claim too much for this German version of Brie, I think, but I sat outside on a hot July Sunday afternoon eating Cambozola and crackers and drinking Schneider Weisse and it was very fine indeed, the sweetness of the cheese finding a good partnership with the slight tartness of the beer.
- Little Creatures and Caerphilly. Any Welsh bitter ought to go with Caerphilly, especially if you’re making Welsh Rarebit, but this tangy, yeasty, highly carbonated Western Australian pale ale goes with crumbly cheeses particularly well, another fine combination of sharpness and sweetness
- Chalky’s Bite and Cheshire. The Sharp’s Brewery’s fennel-flavoured ale, inspired by the Cornish chef Rick Stein and named after Stein’s dog, was designed to go with food, and matches well with fish, but the liquorishy flavours and high carbonation seem particularly suited to a not-too-assertive, slightly creamy, firm cheese such as Cheshire.