A good, upstanding wheel of washed-rind can smell strongly enough to cause most scent-sensitive folks to run for the hills. Their reasoning makes sense: what sane, self-preservation savvy person would eat something that stinks so gosh-darn bad? There's a good reason, actually. Because stinky cheeses are freaking delicious.
Why do some cheeses smell so strongly? Washed-rind cheeses, for their part, have been bathed any number of things, including water, salt, wine, spices, and various liquors. The washing helps the cheese retain moisture and develop their characteristic flavors. The outside of the cheese then builds a cultivation of brevibacterium linens, otherwise known as b. linens. These cultures are what cause the strong smell.
When buying washed-rind cheeses, look for rinds that are uniformly colored—often pink, orange, or light beige. The smell should be pungent, obviously. Some ammoniated cheeses are perfectly fine to eat, but beware of any excessively ammoniated funk, as this may mean the cheese has spoiled. (When in doubt, ask your cheesemonger.) With the exception of a few cheeses, the skin should be smooth, not sticky, slimy, tacky, dry, or cracked.
Here are a handful of lovely, stinky cheeses you should try. I promise, there's gold at the end of the rainbow:
- Epoisses - The smell of this cheese might be off-putting to some, but the inside is a mild, luscious, creamy treat that is at the top of many people's Top Ten lists.
- Limburger - Perhaps the most famous stinker of all time, if the number of pop culture references are any indicator. Limburger is a soft, salty, melty cheese behind its outwardly abrasive personality.
- Taleggio - Taleggio is pungent, to be sure, but its mellow, salty, meaty flavor profile makes it an excellent cheese for both cooking and adding to a cheese plate.
- Nicasio Square - Not as smelly as some other washed rind cheeses, Nicasio Square is a good intro to stinky cheese. You'll find its flavor to be buttery, salty, and tart.
- Red Hawk - An honorably stinky triple-cream by Cowgirl Creamery, Red Hawk is a lovely experience that enchants with its salty, creamy, gently-sweet interior.
- Bonne Bouche - Not a washed rind, but still a cheese that can stink up your refrigerator. This little puck of love actually tastes like sweet, salty milk, rainbows, and unicorns.
About the author: Stephanie Stiavetti is a writer and cookbook author in San Francisco. Stephanie's cookbook, Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese, celebrates America's favorite dish by recreating it with small production, specialty cheeses. Her food blog, The Culinary Life, is a repository for all things comfort food related, from savory dinners to transcendental desserts.