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If it doesn't smell, it isn't swell.

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When I first picked up The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, I was hoping the title story would be a hagiography of sorts about a celebrated monger who only sells odoriferous cheeses. Not quite. My then-tween self was more than a bit offended to find that the story chronicles the tribulations of a tiny man made of extremely smelly cheese who alienates everyone around him because of his pungent scent.

I have always been a lover of rank, preferably soft, cheeses and have spent my life in search of the most robust varietals. Frankly, I don’t understand why “smells like a gym sock” is a pejorative descriptor when it comes to cheese, nor do I understand the people who make such denouncements. To me, cheese isn’t cheese unless it has at least a bit of stink, which I have universally found is a harbinger of deep, intense flavor.

Visiting Murray’s Cheese shop in New York acquainted me with a number of cheeses that fit this desired profile, and upon moving to Houston almost a decade ago, I was thrilled to find:

  1. Kroger on Buffalo Speedway has an in-house Murray’s outpost with an enviable assortment and
  2. Some of their stinkiest cheeses, though typically very expensive, are frequently sold at a reduced price, perhaps because of their limited popularity?
  3. Central Market and Whole Foods’ respective cheese departments’ offerings usually mirror Kroger-Murray’s selection, albeit with hefty price tags.

So, if you, like me, crave gym socks in coagulated dairy product form, here are my picks available in Houston stores for a stinky cheese plate that is sure to make for a most fetid fête. Sold by the wedge, more often than not at a discount, crayeuse tomme is a two-tone cheese produced in the Savoy region of France. “Crayeuse,” which means "chalky," aptly describes its passable, comparatively bland core; however, the thick outer shell and rind is delightfully redolent of vinegar, pepper and grass. Be sure to choose a piece with visible gray-white mold.

The boisterous botanical notes of the crayeuse are well-complemented by the nutty overtones of a washed rind haxaire Münster petit. When the pale orange wheel begins to flatten at room temperature, you know the interior is at maximum ooziness and perfect for spreading on baguette slices.

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Your party isn't complete without a thick slice of Taleggio.

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A thick slice of Taleggio served alongside the aforementioned contributes welcome textural contrast with its firmer, denser consistency. Named for the Val Taleggio caves in the Lombardy region of Italy, this cheese initially presents as mild and creamy but finishes with a sharp, acidic mouthfeel.

Fresh slices of Caveman Blue will perfume your party room long after the guests go home, and, even more impressively, its tangy taste surpasses its aroma. Produced by Rogue Creamery in Oregon, the Blue’s unparalleled rotten crumbles are really what’s going to make America great again. 

Finally, the crown jewel of your stinky cheese platter is epoisses, my very favorite overripe fromage, whose price tag no longer makes me blink twice because I know it’s worth it. Upon opening the charming circular wooden box in which it is encased, your nose burns with the fragrance of festering raw cow’s milk. The burnt orange rind barely contains the off-white inner goo that in theory could be smeared on a carbohydrate surface, but is best enjoyed straight with a spoon. And with lots of crackers for spreading.

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