What Makes The World's Stinkiest Cheese So Smelly?

This cheese is a stinker—here’s why it stands out.

The pungent odor of a well-aged cheese is one sought after by cheese experts everywhere. You can't be a true cheesemonger without appreciating a good stink. But what makes one cheese the stinkiest of them all?

It seems a cheesemaker in Scotland may have found the key to achieving the most fragrant of fromages, The New York Times reports. Rory Stone, a cheesemaker at Highland Fine Cheeses, began selling the Minger seven years ago; it has since been dubbed the smelliest in the world.

The Minger is a washed-rind cheese whose name is British slang for an ugly or malodorous person. The cheese has won a number of awards, including Best Specialty Cheese at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh in 2019, and it's received media attention from various outlets such as The Telegraph, Sky News, and the BBC.

Plus, though the strong smell of the Minger initially made it unappealing to mainstream grocery stores, one British supermarket, Asda, recently announced it would be stocking the stinker on its shelves.

"Everybody is still asking for samples, and it just hasn't stopped," said Stone in an interview. "And I find it really bizarre. I mean, it is a smelly cheese, but it is quite a lovely flavor. So the only problem now is I've run out of cheese."

However, being the smelliest of them all is actually a fairly difficult attribute to quantify. In 2004, researchers at Cranfield University in Britain used an electronic "nose" to determine that Vieux Boulogne, a French cheese, was the most odorous. The device used sensors that would react to the gaseous molecules produced by the cheese, which in turn cause the smell.

Dr. Tonya Schoenfuss, a professor of food science at the University of Minnesota and a frequent dairy contest judge, explained to the NYT that as a cheese ages, the breakdown of fats in the proteins, the bacteria and the yeast, and the molds all create flavor compounds. Some of those volatile compounds are, by extension, responsible for the odor of the cheese.

Époisses and reblochon, both French cheese varieties, are also some of the most pungent around. But neither has garnered the headlines that Minger has. Stone describes the actual flavor of the Minger as "minty" with a smooth texture, and he says people should not be put off by the "cabbagey" smell.

"I didn't know we could get the smell to be so very rich, so horrendous," Stone explained to the NYT. "I didn't know we'd be good at that. I remember walking into the store and thinking, 'Oh my God, we've hit it,' and other people recoiling in horror. And I'm going, 'Well, that's what washed rind should smell like.'"