A very stinky cheese

Things have been rather busy here at What’s for Lunch? Between organizing Halloween costumes and putting the veggie patch to bed, promoting WFL and finishing up the edits on the adult book about food I’m cowriting (due out March 2013), there hasn’t been a lot of time for much else. So I thought I’d reach back into the vault to bring you an older post that offered a behind-the-scenes peak into the research project that was What’s for Lunch?

People who’ve read the book will know that in the pages devoted to France’s school lunch, there is mention of the cheese course (one of 4 courses!) offered daily to French schoolchildren. Knowing kids love to talk about stinky stuff, I decided to hunt down the smelliest French cheese.

 It turned out that I didn’t have to go far, since a scientist in the UK had already done the legwork.

He determined—using both human testers and something called an “electronic nose”—that Vieux Boulogne, made in northern France, is the world’s stinkiest cheese. In the same article—as well as many, many others I found—it was mentioned that it beat out another French cheese called Epoisses de Bourgogne, which the author claimed was so stinky it had been banned from public transportation!

I loved the anecdote about the ban (having been on public transit squeezed beside people eating/carrying stinky food) and really wanted to use it, but in the interest of accuracy had to find official confirmation. I decided to go to the source: the Syndicat de Defense de l’Epoisses, of course!

The French take their food very seriously so I wasn’t surprised to find a Syndicat de Defense (producer’s association) for this very powerful cheese. I emailed the association and a certain M. Risoud told me in no uncertain terms that Epoisses de Bourgogne is NOT banned from public transportation in France. Indeed, the tall tale is one propagated by certain English language media. Zut alors!

Even more, M. Risoud recommended that while the smell of Epoisses can be powerful, it is easily masked when travelling on public transportation (or, presumably, anywhere) by wrapping it in a damp newspaper or, better yet, a cabbage leaf!

I love this story partly because of dear M. Risoud and his cabbage, but also because it shows how the internet sometimes works.  A story is written and—true or not— it gets replicated over and over until it’s nearly impossible to know the truth from fiction. Unless, of course, you are a stinky cheese with a fierce but friendly advocacy organization that’s got your back. If we could only all be so lucky.

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