Some are banned from public transport, while others could awaken the dead, but smelly cheese is loved by many for its nutty, buttery and often mild flavour. The smelliest are often white, soft washed-rind cheeses, which are brushed with liquids or smeared with bacteria as they ripen. The foul-smelling organism that makes them reek like a cesspool is called brevibacterium linens, which also causes foot-odour in humans.
Love them or fear them, here’s a round-up of some of the world’s foulest.
This noisome cow’s milk cheese from Normandy is said to have been invented by a woman called Marie Harel, while harbouring a fugitive priest during the French Revolution. It’s similar to brie, but is smaller and has a larger rind-to-cheese ratio, which makes camembert more pungent. The ammonia in the rind increases with age, producing a fetid vapour that would make the guillotine seem a good option.
Smells like: A deceased ape.
Stinking Bishop, England
Made with the milk of Gloucester cows, Stinking Bishop is named after a 19th century farmer whose drunken temper was as foul as this cheese stinks. The rind is brushed with perry (a type of pear cider) to give it a powerful pong that was made famous in the Wallace & Gromit films for reviving Wallace from the dead.
Smells like: A vagrant’s undershirt.
Limburger, Belgium and Germany
Invented by Belgians, disseminated by Germans, this smear-ripened semi-soft cheese has been referenced by comedians as diverse as Charlie Chaplin and Monty Python for its noxious odour. Traditionally spread onto dark rye bread, it’s believed to attract mosquitos, and thought to have a kryptonite-like effect on the cartoon super-hero rodent Mighty Mouse.
Smells like: Shot-putter’s armpit.
Soft, white and as runny as an athletic spider, this Hungarian cow’s milk cheese not only smells like a chemical spillage, but it tastes like one too. This is thanks to unusually high levels of ammonia, which could bring tears to a bronze statue’s eyes.
Smells like: Tractor grease.
Epoisses de Bourgogne, France
Considered ghastly enough to be banned on public transport in France, this vile smelling unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese is smear-ripened in pomace brandy to make it excessively wretched. Thought to contain a brain-swelling chemical, it was featured in Taras Grescoe’s book about forbidden foods, The Devil’s Picnic.
Smells like: Unwashed skunk.
They’ve been making this blue cheese from full-fat cow’s milk in the Gorgonzola area of Lombardy since the ninth century AD, and it certainly smells like it’s been rotting for over a thousand years. Mould and bacteria, which gives Gorgonzola its blue-green veins, is responsible for the putrid odor, but it tastes great in a nice risotto.
Smells like: A pig farmer’s bunions.
Anything that’s left to fester in a dank cellar for up to three months is going to hum a bit, and this crude cow’s milk cheese from Vosges in France is no exception. It’s washed with brine to make it so offensive we advise swift burial in a landfill site shortly after purchasing.
Smells like: Herman Munster.
Cendre d’olivet, France
This olfactory offender from the Loire Valley was described by the 19th century French writer Émile Zola as: “... like the carcasses of animals which peasants cover with branches as they lie rotting in the hedgerow under the blazing sun.” Need we say more?
Smells like: See above.
Pont l’Evêque, France
This soft, washed-rind cheese from the Basse-Normandie region of France has a smooth texture and a playful, fruity, buttery flavour - that’s if you can get past the feculent gut-heaving miasma that emanates from its rind like bats from a haunted castle.
Smells like: Marsh gas.
The vicious Vieux-Boulogne gives off such a horrendous honk it was heralded as the world’s smelliest cheese by Cranfield University in 2004. Scientists used an electronic nose (designed to sniff out urinary diseases) presumably because no human could stand the evil fumes more than once. Gas mask owners will discover that, ironically, it has quite a mild flavour.
Smells like: The Devil’s dustbin.