The first time I heard someone call Comté “stinky,” my jaw dropped. Comté, a semi-hard lightly washed rind from France’s jura region, is a sultry, sweet wheel with flavors of butter, toasted walnuts, caramel, and from time to time, notes of caramel or beef. I would have sooner called a rose stinky than Comté. It wasn’t until that French friend told me that on one of the many gastronomic field trips that French children take during elementary school, she fainted in a Comté cave because the scent was so fierce, that I really thought about the term stinky.
Stinky is relative. My fainting friend — who admits the only cheese she’ll eat is fresh burrata or mozzarella and who made me keep all cheese I purchased while visiting her on the balcony where she couldn’t smell it — has a very low tolerance level for stinky cheese. Let’s classify it as zero on a scale of 1 to 10 (I still love her though; she sends me home with jars of her granmother’s quince jelly). My stinky tolerance level is 8. Another friend’s level is 13.
In honor of cheeses everywhere, I thought I’d take some time to mention some of my favorite stinkies, as in, they stink so good. Their scent comes from cheesemakers washing them in a brine of salt and water or a blend of water and alcohol that encourages growth of the sultry Brevibacterium linens bacteria. It’s a good bacteria that keeps the bad ones away.
Below are some of my favorite choices, in varying degrees of stinkiness. I rate the funkiness possibilities from 1-10. Taste at your local cheese shop if you want to rate your specific slice before taking home.