From the decadent to the deadly
Smelly cheese isn’t for everyone. My mail lady, for example, wasn’t thrilled to deliver me a small, pungent wheel of Roquefort cheese, which had endured the transatlantic voyage from Southern France already and had become particularly ripe in her truck through the warm afternoon hours. It was delivered at arm’s length.
Some of us will receive that wheel of cheese with pleasure, and we will travel throughout Europe to find the most aromatic specimens. For the connoisseur, the more intense and decadent the smell, the more appealing. Here is a most-wanted list of Europe’s most odoriferous cheeses, from the enticingly offensive to the downright disturbing — and even deadly.
This one was bound to lead off the order simply for its name, but, when overly ripe, this one truly smells like something died. Although tame in the sense that it is produced from pasteurized rather than raw cow milk, from Gloucestershire, England, it has an overpoweringly putrid perfume due to continuous washings with fermented pear cider.
You know you’ve got a winner in the smelly cheese category when it is banned, by law, from public transportation in France. And it is entirely illegal in the United States. Like Stinking Bishop, it is frequently doused in alcohol in the aging process to give it its distinctive odor – in this case brandy – but unlike its English counterpart it is made from raw milk, giving it that extra punch. Its aroma has been described by critics as something between the middle of compost bin and a baby’s diaper.
A properly ripened Camembert is deliciously fetid enough, but dump it in breadcrumbs and let it soak for months in Calvados – France’s famous apply brandy – and it is absolutely deadly. Think of driving by a dairy farm on a hot, humid day. The thing is, the taste itself is not like the tangy, stinky Camembert. All you can taste is the Calvados because it is positively dripping with it.
This German entry is well known in North American supermarkets, along with Stilton and Munster, as an everyday, go-to smelly cheese. To the uninitiated, an aggressively ripe Limburger smells like used, damp rugby socks that have been sitting for weeks in a duffle bag – and for good reason. The cheese is fermented with Brevibacterium linens, a bacterium that contributes to the odor of the human body.
If you’re banned as a cheese in the United States, that’s one thing. But if you’re banned in the European Union? You’re one bad hombre of a queso. That is the proud distinction of the Sardinian specialty, casu marzu, or rotten cheese, which has even killed a few consumers. It is a pecorino that relies on thousands of maggots to break down its milkfat, and is eaten with the larvae still inside. In fact, when diners spread it on toast, they hold one hand over the top of the slice to keep any of the worms from jumping out. As for the smell, well, you will never get near enough to this outlawed cheese to ever need to know.
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