July 7th, 2008
Part 1: What Rankled
Stinking Bishop is a soft, creamy cheese from the U.K, made from the milk of Gloucester cattle:
It is also liquefied death in the nose. Old flyblown duck embryos. Warm hippo eye stuffed with fermented melon rind.
When I was six or seven, while walking to 7-11 to buy candy and Garbage Pail Kids, I decided to take a detour through a gravel ditch running parallel to a newly-built shopping center. Suddenly, before my nostrils had even registered what was happening, I reeled, and I saw at my feet, against the blinding-white sunstruck gravel stones, a pale, wet, hairless flesh-lump.
It was a baby bird. It had fallen from its nest and was boiling under the south Florida summer sun, eyes crammed with crawling things.
What I smelled at that moment — that’s basically what catching a waft of this cheese is like.
Odor aside (if one can, even intellectually, shift aside a sensation as brutish as this cheese’s funk), the taste actually offers layered savor: flan, nuttiness, traces of buttery caramel. My senses were confused trying to match up malevolent odor to nuanced taste. But since my senses like all that jostle, I was happy to be lost in the reek/flavor disconnect.
That pleasure didn’t last long though, as the nose coda hit about 5 seconds after the bite: coming back up through the palate and nostrils, haunting the mouth like a nightmare haunts a freshly awoken mind. It was at this point that the briefly-inviting flavor was totally ambushed by the reek. I put my knife down & left the rest of the wedge I had cut untouched: I’d been bested by the Bishop. My tongue hadn’t lolled in enough gutters to lap up & love curd like this.
I drank some water, I drank some lemonade. I ate some mustard on celery. I ate an orange. I bit into an orange peel.
Five more minutes passed. I glanced back at the Bishop. I got nervous. I fidgeted.
Then, automatically, as if in a trance, I reached over and ate the rest of the cheese in one bite.
Part 2: Why I Stay with Stink
What’s wrong with me? I wondered, as I sat there rolling creamy horror around in my mouth.
I felt a kind of shame, subjecting myself uncontrollably to the assault of that pale dollop. The Bishop’s blight had become a blessing, even as all my natural instincts were recoiling from ingesting something that gave every indication of being unfit for human consumption.
All I know is that at some point in my twenties I started to crave things. Sharp things. Garlicky, hot, punchy, mouth-scraping things. Salsa by the forkful. Tabasco sauce on fingertip, sucked. Blackest of the black coffees, always milkless, sugarless. Occasional swigs of balsamic vinegar. The hottest Dijon mustards, slathered on everything, then eventually spooned out & eaten alone.
Then came cheeses. In my teens: Muenster, Gouda, Swiss. Later? Cabrales, Valdeon, Roquefort, Gorgonzola: all blues, all the time. Then Epoisses and other notorious soft wash-rind sludges. And now Stinking Bishop.
I’d definitely hit bottom. “What kind of mouth-masochist does this stuff?” I wondered. Is it a kind of gustatory thrill-seeking? Taste-bud bungee-jumping? Do I just need to put my sense organs through the wildest rollercoasters, just to be jolted out of myself and into some purer sensation? Do I like the taste of this stuff for the same reason I like noise metal or neo-psychedelia? Is it all just another way I try to feel eclipsed & buried & blotted out by things I touch, taste, hear, see, smell? Why?
Another childhood memory: walking along the shore, sand dunes on my left, the Gulf of Mexico on my right, all my thoughts evaporated as the roar of the waters rushed and mounted, as the salt-sea filled my nostrils, as the sun-spangled breakers sped and foam crests scattered, as the waters sped up and darkened the sand and just as quickly receded, revealing shell-bits and wriggling coquinas, as gulls & sandpipers touched down and beak-stabbed the momentarily naked mud, only to launch back into the air as the water returned; as all life of tidepool and shoreline teemed & squawked against the sea’s mighty rumble, endlessly: all my senses lit up and thrilled, a longed-for end to the mind and a beginning to pure being.
C. Way/ SnailCrow.com © 2008