Nothing says ‘the holidays’ more than a cheese board on the balcony with a wine in hand and fungus odour wafting through the summer breeze. But is that cheese meant to be smelly or is something severely wrong?
We often use our trusty sense of smell to identify when food has gone a little awry. But how are we supposed to know when the cheese is actually off when it was smelly to begin with? As a lactose intolerant person, the world of smelly cheese is complex, confusing and very scary – so, I would really like to know.
As you bring out the classics for this upcoming festive season, don’t be so quick to assume that’s what it’s supposed to smell like. This week’s Ask LH is dedicated to all your future charcuterie boards, so let’s dive right into this lactose mess.
What makes cheese smelly?
If you assumed that cheese smells because the dairy is slowly spoiling, you are incorrect. In fact, the truth is a little more complex and rather gross, when you think about it.
According to this Reader’s Digest article, ‘wash rind’ cheeses (the smelly kind) are created through a pretty specific process. Essentially, the cheese curds are collected, left to age, then washed in brine. A little brine bath, if you will.
The outlet reported that “the warm, moist, and salty solution is the perfect environment to attract bacteria”. I have never felt more disgusted while reading a sentence. Truly my worst nightmare. Moving on.
The delightful bacteria that is often responsible for giving the cheese its potent smell are called Brevibacterium linens (commonly known by the rap name, B. linens). These bad boys break down the protein components that sit on the outer layer of the cheese (also known as the rind) and release the gasses we recognise as the stank of smelly cheese.
When does smelly cheese go off?
There are many different opinions about when cheese actually goes off. As mentioned earlier, you can’t exactly rely on the smell to give you an indication of where the cheese is sitting on its path to degradation.
Normally, an expiry date is a useful tool to get a rough estimate of when things might start to get a little dicey. But apparently, some cheese lovers are willing to disregard everything said in last week’s Ask LH, and ignore the expiry date on their favourite cheeses.
For cheese, perishability is based upon the moisture content. The fresh, soft cheeses (the stinky ones) will be more perishable than the aged variety. To keep your smelly loves safe for up to two weeks, make sure you store them properly.
When it comes to soft cheeses, washed rinds and blue cheeses, you should wrap them in waxy, grease-proof parchment paper and pop them in the fridge.
If you haven’t done that, or you are getting a bit suspicious about the Camembert lurking at the back of your fridge, never fear. There are a few ways you can see if your cheese is having a Rihanna moment, being a good cheese gone bad.
How can you tell when it’s off?
According to cheesemonger, Nora Singley, there are some ways to find out if cheese has gone off that don’t require your sense of smell. Most soft cheeses will develop a hard texture around the edges and darken in colour when it starts to go bad.
Although it depends on the type of cheese, some universal signs are a rotting rind and ammonia aromas, so if any of that is present, bin the cheese immediately.
If you notice some mould it isn’t all bad news. When it comes to hard cheeses, you should be okay to just cut that section off. That’s if you can get past the fact that you are eating mouldy cheese. But don’t mess with mouldy soft cheeses, to be safe.
If there isn’t a noticeable smell or rotting rind, Singley shared the best way to tell if cheese is bad is to taste it. Yes, you are going to have to taste your suspicious cheese. But don’t stress. She explained the experience will generally just be that the cheese won’t taste great, and you’ll toss it.
The complexities of smelly cheese will continue to confuse yet amaze me. Even our lovely friends over at Pedestrian.TV have asked the hard-hitting question of why Brie smells like semen. I guess I’m just jealous I will never be able to enjoy a slab of cheese without thinking of the almost immediate consequences.
In any case, hopefully, this guide will help you avoid a sick tum the next time you chow down on some smelly cheese. Enjoy!