When you fall in love with a Frenchman, you have to accept that your fridge will occasionally be full of runny, mouldy, washed-rind smelly-sockness. Is cheese the only food where an overwhelming odour is considered a virtue?
With a clothes peg on my nose, I braved my way into Nice’s fromageries and asked them to hand over their stinkiest cheese. Here are the top 5 whiffers.
Smells like: A very old pair of unwashed rugby socks.
It didn’t take long for Damien at Cave à Fromages to locate his stinkiest cheese…I could smell it through the wrapper. Vacherin is a semi-soft Swiss cheese with an aged washed-rind (always the worst offenders). To the trained nose it’s said to smell like wet earth, mushrooms and a hint of rotting leaves. To the average person, it’s far less poetic. A survival instinct told me not to taste it but I did anyway – and actually it was bold and buttery with a bitterness that was almost enjoyable. Just don’t carry it around for 2 hours with your cardigan in the same bag.
Cave à Fromages, 42 rue Bonaparte
Smells like: A deceased ape.
Yann at Tentazione in the old town immediately reached for a large industrial sized tub of what looked like Polyfilla. I only had to stick my nose in for a second to understand why. This fresh (ha!) sheep’s cheese from high up in the valleys of Nice’s back country was at the base of the imaginary dish “fougne” that appears in the 1979 cult comedy, Les Bronzés font du ski. If you’ve seen the film you’ll remember the characters attempting to stomach a cheese made from the refuge’s annual leftovers. Although not quite so bad, this cheese should be eaten on a breezy hillside with no one around.
Tentazione, 6 rue du Collet
Smells like: A burglar deterrent. Leave this out for a few hours and ‘aint nobody tryin’ to break into your house.
Mélanie at Lou Froumai nodded excitedly and led me to a “fromage de killer.” And she wasn’t wrong. Pronounced “Marual”, this cow’s milk cheese from Lille has an inedible rind and gives off a pleasing whiff of dead rodents. Apparently it was created by monks more than a thousand years ago, and has earthy notes of walnuts, cauliflower and button mushrooms. Or at least that’s how it’s described in polite cheese parlance. Whatever you do, wear gloves.
Lou Froumai, 25 rue de la prefecture
Smells like: six-week old earwax.
Over in the Carré D’or, Valérie kindly allowed me to breathe in the pungent aroma of this Corsican sheep’s milk cheese. Although Corsicans love it for its creamy but intense flavour, it gives off such a horrendous honk that this could be the perfect cure for winter colds. Serve it from a safe distance of 50 metres and pair it with something sweet like dried apricots or cranberries to balance some of the stink.
Fromagerie du Carré D’or, 54 rue de France
Smells like: You’ve just cheese-grated your feet and collected the shavings for your friends.
Anaïs on rue de Lepante elected Munster. Often called Monster due to its unbearable odour, this cheese from Alsace has magical smelly powers. But let’s face it, anything that’s left to fester in a damp cellar for up to three months is going to hum a bit. Like brie on steroids, once this cheese peaks, the paste becomes oozy and its flavour starts to resemble horse manure…mmm. Eat it quickly before it’s banned from the fridge.
La Ferme Fromagère, 27 rue de Lepante
Ewww I can smell them from here. In a smelldown, I’m still not sure which one would win. Do you know of a real stinker that might compete with the above?