After surviving a brush with Stinking Bishop last month, I got cocky and decided to plump for another washed rind cheese. Traditionally renowned as ‘the really stinky ones’, these are the cheeses that get banned from public transport or the ones you should sew into the cushions if your spouse has an affair. This time round it was Oxford Isis and I have to say, things were not looking good when I got into the car and my other half said, ‘Oh no, I think the baby’s just done something’, a refrain that was to be repeated every time I opened the fridge door over the next two days.
Here it is, standing up quite straight for a slice of washed rind:
Oxford Isis is a washed rind, soft, pasteurised cow’s milk cheese created by the Oxford Cheese Company in 2003. The Company is owned by a French-born Baron, Robert Pouget (or Baron Robert Pouget de Saint Victor if you want to be formal). Baron Pouget is a man that gets described as ‘eccentric’ quite a lot in interviews and, before becoming a cheese-maker was, variously, an architect, furniture designer, painter, advertiser and property developer. It was as the latter that he discovered he owned a cheese shop as part of a larger unit and, amazed at how much money it seemed to be making, he took it over when it became vacant and his love for cheese began.
Called after the Oxford nickname for the bit of the River Thames which flows through the city, Oxford Isis was conceived to compete against the big French whiffers like Epoisses and Soumaintrain. It’s sprayed with five-year-old Oxfordshire honey mead whilst it matures which gives it the sticky orange rind responsible for the strong smell. I don’t want anyone to think that it actually smells of poo; the baby gets the blame for anything on the pungent side in our house. But equally, it’s fair to say that it’s quite a stinker. Several online cheese retailers describe the smell as ‘floral’ but I don’t know what flowers they’re growing.
Taste-wise, as ever with a washed rind, its bark is worse than its bite and, once you get past the rind, its creamy paste is both sweet and meaty. It’s not what you would call a beginner’s cheese; there’s an edge to it that’s not for everyone’s tastebuds. But it’s a popular cheese with high-end retailers and has graced the cheeseboards of Oxford University, Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and the first-class flights of British Airways and Virgin. (Popular maybe, but I’m still not sure I’d want to be sitting next to the person who fell asleep on a long-haul flight with a plate of Oxford Isis in front of them).