There is a cheese that may stand alone. In proud fetidness, that is.
Rory Stone, a 59-year-old cheesemaker at Highland Fine Cheeses in Scotland, has been overrun with orders for a washed-rind cheese called the Minger, which he is billing as the most putrid-smelling cheese in the world.
“Everybody is still asking for samples, and it just hasn’t stopped,” Mr. Stone said 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.”
Mr. Stone, whose parents were also cheese makers, began selling the Minger seven years ago. (“Minger” is slang for someone who is ugly or smells bad. “There are some Urban Dictionary definitions which are a bit rude,” Mr. Stone said.)
Supermarkets initially rejected it, dismissing it as a gimmick. But it sold well enough in independent shops, and it has won several awards, including best specialty cheese at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh in 2019.
This week, however, Asda, a British supermarket chain, announced that it would stock the cheese in its stores, making it widely available for the first time. The Asda news release, which described the Minger as “pungent,” gave rise to a low-grade media frenzy, with Mr. Stone giving interviews to The Telegraph, Sky News and the BBC.
Mr. Stone said he hadn’t set out to create the world’s smelliest cheese. But he said he had encountered someone who applied that superlative to the Minger, and he embraced it.
Is it actually the stinkiest cheese? Who cares, Mr. Stone said.
“I think it was like a throwaway line, because you can’t prove something like that,” he said. “You can’t qualify it. We know it smells, and we know it’s not very nice. But to say it’s the smelliest cheese in the world is a bit of a struggle, but you can’t disprove it. So I suppose we can get away with saying it, and that seems to be what has lit the firework.”
Smelly cheeses have been an object of culinary fascination for decades.
“I think that there are a small group of people out there that just love it,” said Dr. Mark Johnson, a scientist at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin. “It’s almost like an ‘I dare you to eat it’ kind of thing, like hot peppers.”
There is no shortage of smelly cheeses from around the world, as suggested by the existence of various stinky cheese festivals.
“I think we’ve become more adventuresome,” said Marc Bates, a cheese expert who ran the Washington State University creamery for decades and judges several cheese contests a year.
Other contenders for world’s most pungent cheese include Époisses and reblochon, both from France. Another is Limburger, which was first made by Trappist monks in Belgium in the 19th century. In 2004, researchers at Cranfield University in Britain used what they described as an “electronic nose” to determine that the French cheese Vieux Boulogne was the smelliest.
“When you’re aging cheese, you have the breakdown of the fats in the proteins initially, and the bacteria and the yeast and the molds and all the microorganisms are creating flavor compounds, and some of them are really volatile,” said Dr. Tonya Schoenfuss, a professor of food science at the University of Minnesota and a longtime dairy contest judge. “And that’s where you’re getting the smell from.”
Mr. Stone described the Minger as having a smooth texture and a “minty” flavor. The “cabbagey” aroma, Mr. Stone insisted, is “not there in the taste.”
“I didn’t know we could get the smell to be so very rich, so horrendous,” Mr. Stone said. “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.’”