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Why Does Cheese Smell Bad?

Why does cheese smell bad

Some love the aroma of smelly cheese, and others loathe it. So why does cheese smell bad? Is it an ingredient that gets added, the aging process, or some other combination of reasons? Let’s answer this question then take a look at some stinky cheese types that are notorious for their stench. Finally, we’ll suggest some milder cheeses that’ll give your nostrils some relief.

If you enjoy a perfectly sliced piece of cheese, you may also want to check our article on the best cheese slicers. We spent countless hours researching the best tools to slice cheese easily.

Why does cheese smell?

In most cases, cheese that hasn’t gone off smells because of a simple chemical reaction that occurs during production. Washed-rind cheeses have their curds washed in a brine solution. A combination of bacteria, yeast, and fungi transform bland curd into the final product. As the bacteria digests fat, milk, sugar, and protein it causes the excretion of flavor-packed, smelly molecules. The way the smell is released is similar to making stinky tofu, another nasty smelling food.

The top 7 stinky cheeses

All the contenders on this list are classic cheeses. Delicious to some, disgusting to others. However, no-one could deny that they all give off a pungent aroma. One of them has been banned from public transport in France!

1. Roquefort

Roquefort is a blue cheese originating in France. It’s tangy and sharp with high salt content. Although blue cheese is generally quite pungent, Roquefort takes this stench to a new, eye-watering level.

2. Benedictin

Benedictin is a product of Canada and is also part of the blue cheese family. It offers a creamy, woody flavor with a powerful mushroom-like aroma. If you have sensitive olfactory receptors, keep a distance when Benedictin is on the cheese platter.

3. Blue

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Blue cheese rates up there as a highly stinky cheese. Although the first two cheese types are both blue, we decided to include the whole blue family on this list because they all provide a fearsome funk.

4. Cotija

Cotija is a Mexican cheese which, when matured, can be compared to parmesan for its texture and salty, bitey flavor. Its aroma is quite overpowering, and some would compare it to sweaty feet. A harsh description of an exquisite cheese.

5. Epoisses

Epoisses is another French cheese that is an unusual mix of spicy, sweet, and salty all in one. The fetor given off by this one is jaw-dropping, and it can no longer be transported on public transport [source]. This restriction is similar to the Durian ban in some Asian countries. The ban has been put in place for good reason. I’d hate to see the result of a bus sick traveler inhaling the fumes of epoisses!

6. Limburger

Limburger is a European, semi-soft cheese that has a mild, slightly mushroomy flavor. Although it has a lovely taste, the same cannot be said for its fearsome malodor, which is repugnant at the best of times. The fact that some describe Limburger as smelling like feet is not far from the truth. Brevibacterium linens (B linens) is used to ferment the cheese, a bacterium that plays a part in the smell produced by the human body.

7. Munster

Munster (aka Muenster), like many on this list, originated in France. It’s a soft, white cheese with a delicious creamy texture. Although it is tasty, you’ll find Munster is one of the stinkiest on offer. There’s a good reason that this cheese is nicknamed “Monster” by those familiar with its smell.

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Cheeses with less aroma

1. Bocconcini

Bocconcini is a white, semi-soft cheese from the mozzarella family. It heralds from Italy and is perfect in salads, pasta, or topped on a pizza. There is virtually no aroma from bocconcini.

2. Feta

Feta is a crumbly, salty cheese that is remarkably versatile. It is ideal crumbled on salads, added to roast vegetables, soups. If you stick your nose up close to feta, you will pick up a nutty, intense aroma. But don’t fear, it doesn’t overwhelm the room like many others on this page.

3. Edam

Edam is a mild, nutty cheese, originally from the Netherlands. It is recognizable thanks to a bright red rind that encases the cheese. Edam is an excellent option for cheese boards, and the best part is, there is no pungent aroma to overcome.

4. Swiss

Swiss cheese tastes nutty and slightly sweet and is characterized by its holes (eyes). You may be surprised to know that Swiss cheese originated in the United States – it is an updated version of Swiss Emmental. If you’re not a fan of smelly cheese, then Swiss is a good option.

5. Mozzarella

Mozzarella is an Italian invention and is renowned for its pliable, stringy texture. This is your cheese of choice for making amazing pizza thanks to its ability to stretch once melted. No-one wants a rancid smelling pizza – thankfully, mozz gives off little or no odor.

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6. Ricotta

Ricotta is a soft, slightly sweet cheese that is creamy and spreadable. Although it’s a suitable ingredient in savory dishes, it’s also at home in desserts – either used as an ingredient or as a topping. Pancakes topped with ricotta and honey are a must-try sweet treat. Ricotta has a fresh aroma that won’t offend or dominate the dish.

Related article:
Learn how to make cheddar cheese at home with our illustrated guide.

Final words

The range of odors given off by different cheese types is quite incredible. Although some are odorless or very mild, others are borderline offensive.

Choosing the right type of cheese for a platter or a recipe will depend a lot on who you’re feeding. Conservative eaters won’t deal well with a Munster or Limburger cheese. It’ll ruin their appetite before they even start eating! If you have a group that enjoys experimenting with flavor, it is hard to beat a French Blue cheese or Epoisses. Fight your way past the strong aroma, and you’ll be rewarded with cheese that’s creamy, full of flavor, and delicious.

What is the worst smelling cheese you’ve even stumbled across over the years? Let us know in the comments below.

Smelly cheese infographic

[1] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5065955/