The 5 Stinkiest Cheeses in France

Why are some French cheeses so…smelly? Does a strong smell mean a strong taste? Here are some of the strongest-smelling cheeses of France.

Some cheeses have a distinctive, shall we say, aroma. And why not? Cheese is old milk, after all. But why do some cheeses have a strong smell and not others? It comes down to the way they are made.

Cheese starts as milk — cow, sheep or goat — to which cultures of bacteria are added. Certain cheeses rely heavily on brevibacterium linens (b. linens) which is also the bacteria responsible for, yes, body odor. So when someone describes a cheese as smelling like old gym socks, they’re not kidding!

B. linens thrives in moisture, which is why hard cheeses have mild odors while moister, creamier cheeses are often the strongest smelling. Not only that, some cheeses have their rinds washed throughout the aging process, keeping them moist — a perfect environment for b. linens to go forth and multiply.

And then there’s mold, the not-so-secret ingredient behind some of the world’s most odiferous cheeses. “Moldy” is not what most people consider a good smell. And when mold is put into a cheese, like the famous bleus of France, and then left in a moist cave to ripen for months… mon dieu, open the window so we can get some fresh air!

Is a strong smell the mark of a strong cheese? Not necessarily. Some cheeses, like the famous Époisses of Burgundy, have pungent odors but mild tastes. This is true of many washed-rind cheeses, where the powerful aroma comes from the rind and not the creamy interior. Blue cheeses are a different matter because the mold is throughout the cheese, giving every bite a strong flavor. Continue reading “The 5 Stinkiest Cheeses in France”


The Hunt for the Stinkiest Cheese 

I unleashed six extremely stinky cheeses in my apartment until my nostrils couldn’t take it anymore.

There was no missing the smell, even in the hallway outside. “Whoa,” said more than one person as they stepped into my apartment, most clutching wine for the sake of courage as much as for pairing. I’d assembled these friends (maybe former friends, now) as human guinea pigs with one purpose: To find the very stinkiest cheese. Submitted for our approval were seven assertive, pungent, and occasionally quite freaky creations—provided by Murray’s Cheese and curated by Elizabeth Chubbuck, the Greenwich Village–based cheese purveyor’s senior vice president of sales and marketing and, as far as my nose is concerned, a diabolical dairy-wielding sadist. (A very nice sadist, but still.)

Continue reading “The Hunt for the Stinkiest Cheese “