Cheese Personality: Washed Rinds

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Of course a cheese’s personality is largely dependent on the taste, texture, aroma, and ingredients that go into it, but there are other parts of a cheese’s story that contribute to its character. In this blog series, Natalie investigates the distinct personality traits of some of the most unique cheeses out there.


Époisses and other smear-ripened cheeses are smelly, messy, and strangely fleshy in appearance. For these kinds of cheeses, their funkiness is more than just a personality trait—it makes them who they are. Some people find these cheeses are offensive, but many turophiles are willing to overlook these qualities—even embrace them—in order to enjoy the unique flavors that come along with a stinky pink cheese. The salty, creamy, meaty goodness can make it all worth it. (The word “époisses,” in fact, literally means “worth the effort.”)

Époisses, which is washed weekly in a mixture of brine and brandy, is known for being so pungent that it’s actually banned on the subway in France. Originally monks made and ate Époisses as a substitute for meat during religious fasting. Indeed, Époisses and many of its washed-rind cousins have a distinctly meaty, earthy taste to them. The rind’s fleshy pink color even looks sort of meat-like.

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Photo by Kirstin Jackson via NPR

Brevibacterium linens is the bacteria behind the smell. It is also responsible for the pinkish orange color of the rind and the texture of the cheese. Stinky washed-rind cheeses are bathed in brine repeatedly, and in many cases, the B. linens bacteria are manually spread onto the rind during this process. A moist, briny surface is the perfect environment for B. linens to flourish. As the cheese is washed again and again, the bacteria multiply and the cheese gets smellier, stickier, and deeper in color. (B. linens is also found in human sweat, which is why these cheeses often smell distinctly like feet or locker room musk.)

Intimidated? Fear not. You can ease into your relationship with this strong personality. Taleggio, a popular Italian washed-rind, has been called the “gateway stinker.” It’s like Époisses’s slightly moldier but more mellow cousin. Taleggio is still plenty funky, but milder in taste and less goopy.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

These cheeses are usually enjoyed simply, spread on a cracker, next to some quality charcuterie, or possibly with a glass of bold wine. If you want to cook with a pink stinker, a cheese like Époisses can add some extra personality to a grilled cheese or a BLT.

While ripe stinky cheese is delectably creamy, it can be quite runny. Many of these cheeses are kept in little wooden boxes for a reason. If you try to slice a cheese like Époisses or its American cousin Winnimere, you’re going to find yourself in a runny, gooey (albeit tasty) mess. This stuff will ooze all over the place, so be responsible: use a spoon. 


Be sure to read my next blog post on the how rind art can make a cheese’s personality.

Featured photo from Jasper Hill Farm

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