I recently went to Oh La Vache on Fourth Street for my weekly vice when I overheard the customer in front of me in line being told that this week tickets would be going on sale for their stinky cheese tasting class, and I was overwhelmed with excitement.
According to the Oh La Vache website, ohlavachecheese.com, their next cheese class will be bloomy rinds, washed rinds, blues and other funky stuff. The exact lineup hasn’t been picked yet but be sure to watch their Instagram for updates: @ohlavachelb.
To say I love cheese is an understatement. In my perfect edible utopia, wheels of Parmesan would replace weights at the gym, I would have a bloomy pillow of St. André on which to rest my head while I sleep, and I would bathe in feta brine.
After all, it was Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of “The Psychology of Taste” and namesake of an amazing cheese in its own right, who said: “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are,” and if I’m anything it’s cheesy.
Why is stinky cheese stinky? Here’s the semi-long answer:
Cheese smells like feet for a good reason, because what makes feet smell like cheese is the same thing that makes cheese smell like feet. Bacteria. To be specific: Brevibacterium. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t worry about it.
This is one of the several members of the foot microbiome that are able to metabolize amino acids with branched chains, producing branched chain fatty acids that have volatiles (smells) that produce what we recognize as a footy-cheesy smell.
It thrives in damp, sweaty environments like cheese caves, athletic shoes, or between toes, and when it’s thriving you can certainly smell it.
You see cheese is just a coagulated mass of proteins and fats, much like the chemical configuration of our own skin. When washed-rind cheeses are aged for months they are regularly moistened with a maturation brine that’s basically a concentrated version of foot sweat with lots of Brevibacterium to encourage the growth of more bacteria rather than certain molds.
Bacteria break down sulfur-containing amino acids to produce the funkiness that we know and love as stinky cheese, and cheeses that tend to smell the most like feet are the ones that are only washed for a brief period of time before maturing into a relatively dry rind.
With that being said, the greatest thing about a stinky cheese tasting is that you actually have the chance to taste life—the magic that’s happening to create these deeply complicated, intoxicating, and challenging aromas and how they translate into equally complex flavors that range from nutty to sweet, and from floral to animalistic.
Tickets are $60 and include the class, a tasting of five cheeses with light pairings and wine.
Classes will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18 or Saturday, Feb. 19, indoors at Oh La Vache, 2112 E. Fourth St. Proof of vaccination will be required.