17 Top Stinky Cheeses
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Do you enjoy notes of body odor and dirty socks with hints of sour laundry and wafts of barnyard with your comestibles? If so, this is the list for you.
Although many cheeses may have a bit of pungency about them, it’s the washed-rind family that takes top honors in the stinky cheese division. During the aging process, the rinds of these cheeses are rinsed — with anything from brine to brandy, wine, beer or even pear cider — which works to inhibit mold and encourage the growth of friendly bacteria. The bacteria, Brevibacterium linens, is what gives the rind its aroma; it just so happens that B. linens is also the very same bacteria responsible for making feet stink.
Fortunately, although some of the pungency permeates the cheese itself, most of it remains in the rind, leaving a soft-ripened or semi-firm cheese within that is usually milder in flavor than a pair of fetid feet.
In the who’s who of stinky cheeses, the following washed rind varieties rank among the world’s most malodorous.
One of France’s more famous cheeses, the first Camemberts were made from raw cow’s milk, and the AOC variety “Camembert de Normandie” is required by law to be made only with unpasteurized milk; but unpasteurized Camembert is getting harder and harder to come by. Known for its strong mushroom notes, one cheese columnist described an authentic Camembert as having “hints of garlic, barnyard and ripe laundry.”
2. Ami Du Chambertin
Made from unpasteurized cow’s milk in the Gevrey-Chambertin area of Burgundy, the rind is washed with Marc de Bourgogne brandy and the smell hovers somewhere between barnyard and “putrid” . but the flavor is of grassy butter and cream.
3. Epoisses de Bourgogne
This cow’s milk cheese produced by Jacques Hennart in the village Epoisses, France, is commonly just called Epoisses. Also rinsed in Marc de Bourgogne brandy, Epoisses is famous for its stink — so stinky that it is banned from the Parisian public transportation system — and sweet, salty flavor.
4. Fiance Des Pyrenees
An unpasteurized goat’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees, the aroma of this gooey, oozy cheese is described as “yeasty” and “fragrant.”
Originally produced in the historical Duchy of Limburg, but now in other places as well, the granddaddy of stinky cheeses is made from pasteurized cow’s milk. Its fragrance is most commonly compared to mushrooms and ripe underarms.
6. Trou du Cru
Berthaut, the maker of Epoisses (the one so stinky it’s banned on the Paris Metro) also makes Trou du Cru, which is often described as being a petite version of Epoisses. It is washed in the French spirit Marc de Bourgogne and aged on straw, which adds some boozy barnyard hints to the other notes of body odor and sour milk. Beyond the rind resides a sweet, creamy, lovely cheese that is favored by many.
7. Livarot Munster
Named after a village in Normandy, this cow’s milk cheese is one of the oldest in the region. Don’t be scared by its aroma, which may be best described as hardcore barnyard.
8. Le Pavin d’Auvergne
An unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese produced in the Auvergne region of France. Beyond the fungal funk of its rind resides a mild, sweet and nutty cheese.
9. Pont l’Evêque
About this cow’s milk cheese produced in Normandy, one cheese seller says, “The aroma of this cheese is likened to moldy cellars, barnyards and bacon.” Some say it is so stinky they leave it outside until ready to eat.
While many cheese shops describe this cow’s milk cheese from the Alps as having a pleasant aroma, the internet abounds with testimonies asserting a dirty-foot and vomit fragrance.
11. Robiola Lombardia
This Italian cheese made of cow’s milk, goat’s milk or a combination both is made in a region near its stinky cousin, Taleggio.
A cow’s milk cheese from Austria with a slimy rind, it is one of the stinkier cheeses on the block. It is “robust,” and best-suited for those with a strong like for a strong stink.
13. Soumaintrain Berthaut
This French cow’s milk cheese from the Département de l’Yonne in Burgundy has its rind manually rubbed two to three times per week during aging. And while the aroma of Soumaintrain is quite assertive, the flavor is relatively demure; one seller describes it as “pleasantly pungent, with a fruity, yeasty beefiness.”
This Italian cow’s milk cheese from the Val Taleggio region is washed in seawater once a week during aging to arrive at its wet-socks-and-grass aroma; beneath the rind is a subtle, sweet and tangy cheese that is far more mellow than its smell would suggest.
15. Stinking Bishop
This cheese made by Charles Martell & Son at their Laurel Farm in Dymock, England, uses milk from the rare Gloucester breed of cattle. It takes its name not from its outrageous stench, but from the Stinking Bishop pears used in the brandy with which the rinds are washed. How stinky is Stinking Bishop? In a contest to determine England’s funkiest-smelling cheese, it took first place, with judges describing it as smelling like “a rugby club changing room.”
16. Tomme de Chevre
While this raw goat’s milk cheese from the Aspe Valley in the French Pyrenees may not be the stinkiest one of the bunch, it does have a more assertive aroma than the mild goat cheeses that your local supermarket may offer. It’s grassy and nutty, but with a strong goaty smell that has a particular kind of gaminess that some people can find off-putting.
17. Vieux Lille
This stinker from northern France is so stinky that it’s nicknamed “old stinker.” Vieux Lille is a type of Maroilles, and washed with a brine for three months to make it one of the most pungently fragranced cheeses on the planet. Not for the faint of heart; perfect for those who think the stinkier, the better.
Because one man’s reeking stinky cheese is another man’s treasure.
Why Do Some Cheeses Smell Bad, But Taste Good?
Ah, stinky cheeses. They earn us no friends in close quarters — that is, unless everyone is eating it.
Why is it that a cheese can smell so bad, but taste so good? Two words: Brevibacterium linens. Also known as b . linens, this is the bacteria responsible for the funk so closely associated with many washed-rind cheeses. It’s also responsible for the typical pink-orange rind and tacky texture of stinky curds. So where does it come from? To answer that, we need to delve a little deeper into a washed-rind’s make process.
Washed-rind cheeses are called such for a reason: as they age, they’re repeatedly washed in brine. Sometimes the brine is a simple saline solution, other times it’s wine or beer. This constant washing provides the moist, briny environment b. linens needs to flourish. Sometimes makers even spread b . linens directly onto the surface of the cheese during washing, or inoculate the milk with it. So why this bacteria — the same one f ound in human sweat, and why washed-rind cheeses often smell distinctly like feet or locker room musk? B. linens may be offensive to the nose, but your taste buds may have other feelings — ones of love resulting from tasting a low-acid, umami-laced, gooey, salty paste.
Ready to tackle some flavorful washed-rind cheeses? If you’re a beginner, try out Taleggio, a tamer, firmer washed-rind from Italy, or Red Hawk, a buttery, beefy triple cream from California’s Cowgirl Creamery. Ready for the big boys? Goopy Epoisses is both meaty and milky, and spoonable Vacherin Mont d’Or is woodsy, soft, and excellent drizzled over roasted potatoes. If you can find it, grab some Winnimere from the Cellars at Jasper Hill. Regularly brushed with local lambic beer, Winnimere is velvety and almost soup-like when ripe. All you need is a crusty baguette for dunking. Or…simply a spoon.
Rebecca Haley-Park is culture‘s former editor and resident stinky cheese cheerleader. A native New Englander, she holds a BFA in creative writing from University of Maine at Farmington.
Discover the bacteria behind the funk of washed-rind cheeses (spoiler alert: it's the same one found in human sweat).