I’m sure you feel it, too. The craving. When you catch a whiff of musty leaves on your walk to work, or when pull on a wool sweater that still smells a little sheepy -- those earthy, beasty smells make you want one thing: stinky cheese.
No? Seriously? Okay, I’m alone here, or maybe you just don’t want to admit it. There is something about November weather – all this dampness and decay – that makes yeasty, feisty cheeses kind of appealing.
That’s why I’m excited to tell you about Stinky Føttene (pictured above), a new beefy champ from Hook’s Cheese Company out of Mineral Point, Wisconsin. I am especially proud of Tony and Julie Hook for calling this cheese what it is. The name literally meets “stinky feet.”
In the cheese world, people shy away from using the word “stinky” or “whiffy.” Most mongers and makers will use the term “pungent,” as if this is a kindler, gentler way to refer to certain “interesting” cheeses with “aromatic” qualities.
I prefer not to tiptoe. Stinky cheese has always been all right with me. I like to eat it with dark bread and dark beer, preferably in a darkish kitchen with maybe a little Hüsker Dü playing in the background.
Stinky Føttene is a good gateway stinker. “For a stinky cheese, it’s pretty palatable,” my friend Austin said, when I served him a wedge at a recent harvest party. My friend Tracy deemed it “the IPA of cheese.” I’d have to agree. Our wedge – airdropped in from a Wisconsin source – didn’t necessitate any nose plugs.
Still, it had all the qualities I like in a stinky washed-rind cheese: a gooey orange rind (from a good wash with saline or booze), a creamy texture, and a toothsome beef-stewy quality that is characteristic of stinky cheese.
What makes a cheese stinktastic? Most are washed-rind cheeses, which is a style of cheese that developed out of monastic cultures. Many early monasteries produced beer or spirits alongside cheese, and some sweet bald Man Of The Cloth finally put the two together. Think of Epoisses, a famous Googoo Cluster from the Trappists.
Washed-rind cheeses are literally bathed in a solution – brandy, beer, etc. – that adds flavor and moisture. No surprise, eating these stinkers alongside Trappist ales and dark liquor makes for a very merry pairing.
Must-Try Whiffies: From Mild to Wild
If you are sensitive to stink, ask a cheesemonger to help you find the right round for you. Stinky cheeses tend to get whiffier as they age, so ask for a young buck. In the store, the cheese might hit you like a herd of rowdy bulls, but at home – with the right condiments and libations – you’re going to find that it lows like a calf.
Below are some great seasonal stinkers. I like to serve these before a big meal – or as a meal – because they pair well with other strong flavors, like pickles, cured meat, dark beer, spiced nuts, and even marmalade.
Ardrahan – Ireland’s version of a stinky cheese. It’s so gentle, it purrs.
Anton’s Red Love – It’s a stinky pillow-top, which means Not Too Stinky. The texture is silken. I could sleep on this, it’s so featherbed good.
Red Hawk – A not-too-stinky dream puff from California's Cow Girl Creamery. Rich and faintly peanutty. One of my favorites.
Hooligan – Plenty stinky but so delicious. Think of a cow barn with a tire swing -- you’ll taste both. This is one elegant but intense cheese, and it’s made by a former English teacher and his mom, in Connecticut. Oh, please. It’s cute and stinky. It’s the Hello Kitty of Stinky Cheeses.
Stinking Bishop – Need I say more?
Epoisses – The only cheese I serve on Thanksgiving Day, always with baguette rounds and celery sticks. It’s the dip du jour for stink-loving Brady Bunchettes.
Limburger – A truly repugnant smelling cheese that has the taste and texture of onion frosting, although it never tastes quite as strong to me as it smells. One man makes Limburger in the U.S., and he tells me it’s good on toast with a smear of strawberry jam. I like to make Limburger Helper.
Full Discosure: Stinky Fottene was sent to me as a sample, among other Wisconsin whiffies that I requested for a Thanksgiving Cheese Board.