Smelly cheese: some love its aroma, others loathe it. It’s a divisive issue¹. So why does cheese smell bad? Is it an ingredient that gets added, the ageing process, or some other combination of reasons? Let’s answer this question then take a look at some cheese types that are notorious for their stench. Finally, we’ll suggest some milder cheeses that’ll go easy on your nostrils.
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Why does cheese smell?
When cheese is made, a combination of bacteria, yeast and fungi transform bland curd into the final product. The bacteria digest fat, milk, sugar and protein which causes the excretion of flavor-packed, smelly molecules. Some bacteria have a fetid stench which is why cheese can range from odorless through to an eye-watering funk.
Stand-out 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 – so much so that one of them has been banned from public transport in France!
Roquefort is a blue cheese originating in France. It’s tangy and sharp with a high salt content. Although blue cheese is generally quite pungent, Roquefort takes this stench to a new, eye watering level.
Benedictin is a product of Canada and is also part of the blue cheese family. It offers a creamy, almost woody, flavor with a strong mushroom-like aroma. If you have sensitive olfactory receptors, keep a distance if you spot Benedictin on the cheese platter.
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Blue cheese rates up there as a highly smelly 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.
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 for an exquisite cheese.
Epoisses is another French cheese that is an unusual mix of spicy, sweet and salty² all in one. The fetor given off by this one is jaw dropping and it can no longer be transported on public transport³. This is similar to the Durian ban in some Asian countries. The ban is put in place for good reason. I’d hate to see the result of a bus sick traveler inhaling the fumes of epoisses!
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.
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 good reason that this cheese is nicknamed “Monster” by those familiar with its smell.
Cheeses with less aroma
Bocconcini is a white, semisoft 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.
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’d pick up a nutty, strong aroma. But don’t fear, it doesn’t overwhelm the room like many others on this page.
Edam is a mild, nutty cheese, originally from the Netherlands. It’s recognizable thanks to a bright red rind that it is encased in. Edam is an excellent option for cheese boards and the best part is, there is no pungent aroma to overcome.
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.
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.
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 of 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.
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! Conversely, if you have a group that love experimenting with flavor, it’s 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.
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