Why Do Some Cheeses Have an Unpleasant Odor?

Macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, cheeseburgers…isn’t cheese AMAZING? We believe it is. Well, most of the time it is.

However, sometimes certain cheeses can have a strong smell. Have you ever smelled a fancy cheese that made you scrunch up your nose? Whew! What’s the reason behind that?

All cheeses are made in a similar manner: by curdling milk so that it separates into curds and whey. Curds are solid, white lumps, and whey is a thin, watery liquid.

One of the simplest combinations of curds and whey is cottage cheese. Many historians believe that Little Miss Muffet ate a form of cottage cheese while sitting on her tuffet.

To make cheese, milk is first heated to eliminate any harmful bacteria. After the milk cools, it is placed in large containers. A starter culture of special bacteria is then added. These bacteria convert the sugar in milk (called lactose) into lactic acid.

After the starter culture, rennet is added. Rennet contains an enzyme that causes the proteins in the milk (called casein) to coagulate. This causes the milk to separate into solid curds and liquid whey.

Once solid curds have formed, they are cut into smaller pieces to release more whey. The mixture is then heated in a process known as syneresis to release even more whey.

The whey is then drained off, leaving only the curds behind. The curds will then begin to clump together through a process called cheddaring. Salt is often added at this point to enhance the taste and remove excess moisture.

The salted curds are eventually pressed into blocks and cooled until they become solid blocks. The solid blocks of cheese are then stored for several weeks to several months to allow them to mature until they are ready to be consumed.

Different types of cheeses are made by using different starter cultures or slightly altering the steps of the cheese-making process. For instance, mozzarella cheese is kneaded like dough to give it its characteristic stretchy texture.

So why do some cheeses have a strong smell while others have almost no scent at all? The answer lies primarily in the starter culture used to make the cheese. The bacteria that make up the starter culture help determine the taste, texture, and smell of the cheese.

For example, some bacteria give cheese a mushroom flavor and a particularly pungent odor. Examples of such cheeses include Brie and Camembert.

Other factors that can contribute to the strong smell of cheeses are aging and washing. Some cheeses are aged for many months, and the extended aging process often intensifies the aroma of the cheese.

The rinds (edges of blocks) of cheeses are sometimes regularly washed as the cheeses mature to keep them moist. Depending on the liquid used — brandy, port, beer, and saltwater are commonly used — the cheese may develop specific flavors and smells over time with repeated washings.

If you’re curious about the most pungent cheeses in the world, there are several that are known for their particularly strong aromas. Vieux Boulogne is known for being pungent because its rind is brushed with beer as it ages. Another cheese — Époisses de Bourgogne — is so stinky that it is actually prohibited from being carried on public transportation in France, where it is made!

Undoubtedly, Limburger is the most famous pungent cheese. Its strong odor has been depicted in various cartoons and classic TV shows like The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals.

Some claim that Limburger cheese smells like feet, which is not surprising. The bacteria used in the production of Limburger cheese, Brevibacterium linens, is the same bacteria responsible for human body odor!

Give It a Try

Feeling cheesy? Gather your cheesiest friends and family members to join you in these activities:

  • Craving cheese? If not, that’s understandable. All this talk about smelly cheeses might make you want to avoid cheese for a while. But if you’re still in the mood for something cheesy, head to the kitchen and try one of these easy and delicious cheesy recipes: + Fun-to-Eat Grilled Cheese and Soup + Confetti Macaroni and Cheese + Nacho Cheese Sauce + Easy Cheese Fondue + Spicy Cheese Ball
  • Did you know that you can make a grilled cheese sandwich without a stove? It’s true! Check out How To Make Grilled Cheese with an Iron online. You never know, this technique might come in handy when you’re in college. Make sure to ask an adult friend or family member for help if you decide to try this unique cooking method at home.
  • What’s your favorite type of cheese? Can you name all the different types of cheese? Ask an adult friend or family member to take you on a quick trip to a local grocery store. Visit the dairy section and write down the names of all the different types of cheeses you can find. Don’t forget to check the deli section too, as they often have a wide variety of cheeses, especially gourmet ones. How many did you find? Were you aware that there were so many varieties? If possible, choose one or two types that you’ve never tried before to experiment within the comfort of your home.

References

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limburger_cheese
  • http://www.eatwisconsincheese.com/wisconsin-cheese/how_cheese_is_made
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottage_cheese
  • http://milkfacts.info/Milk%20Processing/Cheese%20Production.htm
  • http://culturecheesemag.com/cheese-bites/cheeses-smell-bad-taste-good

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