What is the stinkiest cheese in the world?

If you have ever brought yourself to actually eat a stinky cheese, you'd know that they usually taste far better than they smell. What cheese is the hardest to consume, though – what's the stinkiest cheese of them all?

There are some pretty stinky cheeses in the world, but do they taste good?
There are some pretty stinky cheeses in the world, but do they taste good?  © Unsplash/Alice Donovan Rouse

There are few things that will bring greater joy to your soul than a good quality cheese platter, complete with all the trimmings.

Some blue cheese, some brie, some cheddar, and some goat cheese are all absolute musts, but what about those classic stinky boys?

What about those cheeses so wafty that they'll stun even the most experienced cheese connoisseur?

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So what cheese holds the world record for being the smelliest in the world?

What is the stinkiest cheese ever, where does it come from, and why is it so unbelievably foul to sniff?

Let's find out.

What is the world's smelliest cheese?

A washed-rind cheese called the Minger has been declared the world's smelliest cheese, according to the New York Times. While there is no official world record from the folks over at Guinness World Records (after all, there's hardly a measure for stinkiness), the intensity and nastiness of this Scottish cheese is so obnoxious that it'd likely knock even a cow off its feet.

Made by Scottish cheese maker Rory Stone, who owns Highland Fine Cheeses in the burgh of Tain, the Minger takes its name from Scottish slang. A washed-rind cheese, it has been made from cow's milk before being brine-washed and then aged.

The process of brining the cheese creates an environment that then breeds strongly-flavored bacteria, giving the cheese its signature stink and strong flavor. When Stone originally introduced the cheese, it was rejected by supermarkets for being too stinky, and accused of just being a gimmick.

Ironically, though, it quickly took off and saw tons of requests for samples. It became so popular, Stone told the NYT, that he's "run out of cheese." After winning multiple awards and being sold successfully in local shops, it has now been accepted by a major UK supermarket chain and will be sold en masse.

While many believe it to be the world's stinkiest cheese, there is no proof that it really is, and Rory Stone himself admits that "you can't prove something like that." He even went so far as to admit that the statement of it being the smelliest cheese in the world was simply just a "throwaway line."

“You can’t qualify it. We know it smells, and we know it’s not very nice. But to say it’s the smelliest cheese in the world is a bit of a struggle, because you can’t disprove it. So I suppose we can get away with saying it, and that seems to be what has lit the firework.”

Why is the stinkiest cheese so smelly?

Stinky cheese can be pretty overpowering – beware!
Stinky cheese can be pretty overpowering – beware!  © IMAGO/Pond5 Images

The stinkiness of a cheese is mostly based on the starter culture used to make it, as well as whether the cheese maker has brined it. Of course, a cheese is made up of many bacteria, creating all sorts of delicious and complex flavors as well as bizarre smells and interesting colors (see: blue cheese). On top of smell and flavor, these same factors influence a cheese's texture.

Ultimately, the bad smell comes from the "microbial breakdown of proteins in the cheese," according to the American Chemical Society. The organization claims that the stinkiest type of cheese in the world is a washed-rind cheese. Wow, now doesn't that sound a little bit familiar?

According to them, the process of brining the outside of the cheese creates a rind that is "perfect for microbes." As such, bacteria start to colonize the outside of the cheese, creating not only a strong flavor and smell, but also the iconic pink-orange look that many stinky washed-rind cheeses have.

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"That stinky smell comes from the microbial breakdown of proteins in the cheese, a process that releases pungent gases, like the volatile fatty acids propanoic acid and isovaleric acid."

Other seriously stinky cheeses, like the stinking bishop (which was claimed by Insider Food to be the stinkiest cheese ever back in 2021), also use this method. Interestingly, though, it doesn't necessarily mean that the cheese tastes anything like how it smells.

In fact, in the case of the Minger, while it smells incredibly pungent, it actually tastes fantastic and has an unbelievably creamy and smooth texture. Stone even described its flavor as "minty," while he said that its smell was "cabbagey," a prospect that seems much less enticing.

"I didn't know we would get the smell to be very rich," he said. "And I find it really bizarre. I mean, it is a smelly cheese, but it is quite a lovely flavor."

What cheese smells like feet?

Many cheeses smell vaguely of feet, giving off an odor that'll stun you like a freight train in the fog. Most famous for its "feet" smell, though, is Limburger, a cow's milk cheese from the land of Belgium. Following in the traditions of stinky cheeses, Limburger is more commonly produced in Germany nowadays, and while not as potent as the minger, it certainly smells like feet.

As with most smelly cheeses, all those mentioned in this article are far more delicious in taste than they are in smell. Try not to let the smell of a cheese keep you from trying it – if you do, you'll miss out on a lot!

Cover photo: Unsplash/Alice Donovan Rouse

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