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How Can a Cheese that Smells like Feet Taste so Good?

How can a cheese that smells like feet taste so good?
Smell and Flavor are linked, together informing taste, though they function differently. Aroma tells only part of the story; taste buds complete the picture by detecting sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and the all-important fifth characteristic, umami. A person who can’t smell well due to a disorder, a bad head cold, or old age won’t experience flavors the same way as someone with a high-functioning sniffer.

Things that smell good might taste bad and vice versa. A well-made stinky cheese has a powerful aroma balanced by just the right amount of complementary flavors—sweet- ness, saltiness, tanginess, and umami.

Recent scientific and popular interest in the microbes that live in and on our bodies has resulted in some rather revealing research about why some people’s feet smell like a well-aged blue cheese such as Stichelton or a surface-ripened round such as Red Hawk. Get ready: It turns out that the same odor-manufacturing bacteria are present on both toes and on cheese. These bacteria produce volatile chemicals with memorable aromas while transforming the proteins in cheese into unbelievably delicious flavors. So no matter what your nose tells you, give that super-smelly cheese a nibble—you might be surprised.

Gianaclis Caldwell

Gianaclis Caldwell is the author of Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking, among other books. She manages the goat herd and cheesemaking operations at Pholia Farm Creamery in Oregon.