Of Stinky Cheeses

So… being a boy who’s spent many a year in America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin (because as much as California wants to claim that title, they’ll have to start making better cheeses for a start), I have long been a fan of that acidified milk product in all its basic forms — be it cheddar, swiss, mozzarella, provolone, etc.

Recently, though, I’ve decided to challenge my tastebuds and see what the world has to offer, in more exotic incarnations of the curd. I had the immense pleasure of finding a cheese called Huntsman several months back — a glorious mixture of Stilton and Double Gloucester that was just a marvelous treat.

One of the markets near where I live has set up a specialty cheese section that I’ve been perusing for a while, and yesterday I saw one that I’ve heard of, but never tried before — a cheese called Morbier, which has two layers, separated by ash (yes, ash), with the lower layer made from the cow’s morning milk, and the upper layer made from evening milk. At about $15 a pound, this ain’t Velveeta we’re buying here, but I had heard good things, so I took it home.

And tonight, while cracking open a red wine, I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Then: “Oh. My. Lord. What IS that?”

The aroma which assaulted my nose upon ripping the plastic covering was something one might encounter if one had a teenage son whose sweaty gym socks were left in a hamper for a week — and if they had been sitting next to a dead rat the entire time.

Bravely, however, I continued to peel back the wrapping — finding nothing that encouraged me to go further… and yet, I persevered.

I gingerly exposed a section, cut away the rind, and sliced off a piece. I ate it. At this point, all that I could taste was overwhelmed by that… smell.

“I don’t think I’m ready for this,” I say aloud, to an empty room, and I set the hunk of food down, several feet away. At this point I get the idea to go online and find out how other people have reacted to this olfactory abomination. I find entries like this:

“The Morbier is one slap in the face of a cheese, pungent to the point of nearly tasting ammoniated.”
“If, one day, you should actually see this cheese from afar, RUN.”
“Some cheese lovers report the odor is so bad that even their dog runs when they bring out the package of Morbier cheese.”

But I saw a few dissenters to that general opinion, and discovered that the rind is actually what gives off the worst odor, and wrapping in plastic only accentuates that.

Oh-kay… I’m nothing if not adventurous.  So let’s get rid of that plastic, cut off all the rind, and see what we’ve got, shall we?

Shearing off a few more slices, and letting them linger in my mouth, I discover it’s really not too bad. Not perhaps worth fifteen bucks a pound, and not perhaps something I’ll keep my cupboards stocked with, but nonetheless I am proud of having had the fortitude to press on, if for nothing less than for the good of the epicurean explorer within me.

Although my fingers still smell like gym socks.

© 2008 DJ Holte

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