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Époisses and the Science of Backward Smelling


James Wong smells Epoisses

Ah, Époisses. For some, this washed-rind cheese is a no-go, mainly due to its pungent, stinky-feet odor. But for those who are able to get past its stench, they’ll be rewarded with complex, savory, meaty flavors that are an absolute joy to taste.

So how can something that smells so unappetizing taste so good? In an upcoming episode of the new PBS series “Food: Delicious Science,” co-host James Wong visits France to find out. 

It all has to do with “backward smelling.” Tastes are sensed through the smell detectors at the back of the nose, and the brain essentially interprets these aroma compounds differently than when a food is smelled through the nose. Wong initially describes Époisses’s aroma as “intense [and] sulfur-like,” but the flavor as “sharp, garlicky, [and] eggy.” (Spoiler alert: He really likes eating it.)

If you’ve never been able to get a stinky cheese past your lips, now’s as good a time as any to try. (Science says so!) Dive into the world of these funky-smelling curds by learning what gives them their distinct odor. Don’t forget to enjoy them with some wine, too!

The “A Matter of Taste” episode airs Wednesday, May 24 at 10 p.m. 

Video courtesy of PBS

Alyssa Kim

Alyssa is culture's former Web Editor. Raised in Mass., she's excited to be back in her home state after six years of working in journalism and TV production in NYC.