Unless you're lactose-intolerant, chances are you probably have a favorite cheese or two. It's tough not to. There are so many different varieties out there that the options are practically unlimited. However, eating cheese comes with a price: bad breath.
With National Cheese Day coming up fast - seriously, it's on June 4, look it up - here are some rules for eating cheese and avoiding halitosis.
Cheese decree #1. The bouquet comes from bacteria. Why exactly do certain cheeses stink in the first place? It all has to do with microbes. Making cheese takes three things: milk, enzymes and bacteria. The enzymes make the dairy curdle, and the bacteria give a cheese its hardness, color, flavor and scent. While some strains make a nearly odorless cheese (think Colby or mild cheddar), others emit much more potent odor compounds.
Cheese decree #2. Protein adds a punch. Sure, the scent of a stinky cheese is enough to stain your breath, but what really makes cheesy halitosis take hold is the food's proteins. These cover your tongue in a thick scum. The bacteria in your mouth go to work breaking down this stuff, and what results is a more complex and powerful funk.
Cheese decree #3. If you want to go French, expect a stench. Most people already know this little rule of thumb by heart. Many of the cheeses that originated in le République Française are renowned for their repugnant reek. Not that the French care - most of the time, a stink is considered the sign of a delicious aged cheese, and taste testers usually agree. However, be forewarned. Varieties like Brie, Roquefort and Epoisses are guaranteed to give you a blast of bad breath.
Cheese decree #4. Funk indicates flavor. Some of the world's stinkiest cheeses taste divine, while others with very little odor also pack less in the flavor department.
Cheese decree #5. To quench the stench, brush or flush. Rather than avoiding cheeses altogether, simply use a specialty breath freshening product after eating. The two best tools for the job are (a) an oxygenating toothpaste, which banishes bacteria, and (b) an alcohol-free mouthwash, which can flush away proteins and odor compounds without irritating your mouth.
While we're at it here are some guidelines for choosing stinky cheeses.
- The runnier, the funkier. Often, a cheese that slowly liquefies at room temperature will smell more than a similar one that doesn't. There are many exceptions to this rule, though, making it more of a tip than a hard-and-fast law of nature.
- More veins equal more odor. Again, "usually" is the key word. Cheeses that are marbled or shot through with blue or green veins often smell very pungent. Cases in point: bleu cheese, Stilton and Roquefort. All three of these varieties stink to the high heavens.
- Age = odor. This is almost always true. The older a cheese is, the more likely it is to be unbearably odiferous.
- If the cheese that gives you bad breath has the word "stinking" in the name, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Cf. Stinking Bishop cheese, an English original that apparently smells like a pile of sweaty gym clothes. However, the odor apparently comes only from the rind, which can be peeled away to reveal a soft, creamy delight inside.
- Speaking of body odor, a few cheeses get their distinct scents from the same microbial strains that live in your body. A good example is Limburger, that smelliest of German cheeses, which is made using Brevibacterium linens, the same bacterium that gives your feet and armpits their natural perfume.