I’m what is known as a cheegan. I worship at the salty, creamy alter of all things pressed curd. Except if it involves goats. There’s a reason people associate goats with Satan and let me tell you, it’s not the horns. It’s the milk. Pure evil. My pilgrimage on this holiest of cheesy journeys led me to the discovery of a little cheese bar in the once grungy, now gentrified inner-western Sydney suburb of Newtown.
From Thursday to Saturday, you can’t make a dinner reservation at The Stinking Bishops. Regardless, I still made the hour-and-a-half trek from Wollongong one Friday evening, such is my dedication. Upon arrival, a small hipster fellow greeted me and added my name and phone number to their waiting list. I had a half hour wait before the ritual could commence, so I nipped off to the pub up the road to await the phone summons, which, on the exact 30-minute mark, it did.
The space had a cosy, casual atmosphere and I took my seat at the bar, with a view of yet another small hipster chap slicing cheeses and assembling cheeseboards in a manner that was so precise and dramatic it could pass as performance art.
Another of the wait staff, a small woman who’d clearly spent many years employed in inner city hospitality (tattooed, hurried, a carefully measured level of polite), promptly came to talk me through the menu and wine list. Her speed and efficiency was contagious – within a couple of minutes I’d settled on an adventurous dairy degustation; a four cheese board, mac ’n’ cheese and for dessert, a gorgonzola cheesecake.
The board arrived with my selection; a hard Spanish cheese, Los Llanos Manchego DOP; another hard number, an aged Reypenaer VSOP Gouda from The Netherlands; an Irish blue mould, Grubb Cashel Blue; and a French washed rind, Époisses Coupe perriere. Accompanying it was a basket of sourdough bread and artisan crackers, fresh muscatel grapes, a sliver of quince paste and a slice of fig and walnut log.
Aged naturally in an historic warehouse on the Old Rhine River, and with fruity caramel notes, the gouda sure was good. Historically, Ireland isn’t renowned for its cheesemaking, so I was surprised to discover they know how to craft a decent blue. The Cashel is Ireland’s original, farmhouse blue cheese, and while not the palate onslaught I’d ordinarily opt for in a blue, it still left a deliciously stinky impression. The buttery, pungent and gooey French fromage was superbe, the 60-day rum wash having had a special kind of alchemical effect. The hand-churned sheeps milk manchego tingled sharply on the tongue, acrid and acidic, and was the least pleasant of the four. It must be a requirement for Stinking Bishops staff to have a degree in cheeseboard maths, because the ratio of cheeses to accompaniments was spot on.
This extravaganza was followed up by the mac ‘n’ cheese. Fond childhood memories of this dish have left me on a life quest to find somewhere that serves one as comforting and tasty. I’ve so far failed dismally on this mission, until now. This was a deeply satisfying excavation through enoki, pine and swiss brown mushrooms, smoked chedder, al dente macaroni and shredded taleggio. I think there may have even been a smidge of truffle oil in there. It wasn’t at all like how I remember it from childhood. This was the serious, grown up version, but it now stands as my mac ‘n’ cheese benchmark.
The gorgonzola cheesecake was not the wild oxymoron you might expect. Some have suggested the deconstructed food trend needs to quit, but the chef here is yet to pay heed. The Italian blue was delicately hidden in a creamy spoonful of yum, surrounded by a generous sprinkling of coconut and oat crumb and a halved Turkish fig.
A 2013 Ernesto Catena Malbec Padrillos was recommended as the best match to wash it all down with and oh lordy, wasn’t it just. So smooth and subtle, it didn’t dominate the palate, but complemented the flavour of everything else I was putting in my mouth. Quite the quaffer.
It suffices to say, The Stinking Bishops have truly found their calling as shepherds of the cheegan flock.