At its core cheese can seem like a really simple thing. Derived from milk, cheese was developed in many different societies using hundreds of different techniques. A huge variety of styles, textures and flavours have been developed and the characteristics of an individual cheese can change depending on the origin of the milk, the animal’s diet, pasteurisation, the bacterias and moulds used or available in the atmosphere, the processing, ageing and flavouring agents such as herbs, spices and various wood smokes.
With all this variety it’s then probably not surprising that some cheese products are pretty strange. Here is a countdown of the world’s weirdest cheeses. Tourists to the countries where these cheeses are made should definitely look out for them, if not for their unique qualities, then at least to simply tell shocked friends they have tried them.
7 – Époisses de Bourgogne
Found in a simple, small round container Époisses, as it is commonly known is so pungent it has been banned from public transport all over its native France. The rind is washed in brine and Marc de Bourgogne, the local pomace brandy, which over time gives the cheese its unusual quality.
Usually served with a Trappist beer, or sweet French wine it is said that this cheese was a favourite of Emperor Napoleon despite the fact that people often describe it as smelling like a person who hasn’t washed in a week.
6 – Rainbow cheese
Kala Toast in Hong Kong makes a cheese specifically for its toasted cheese sandwiches called Rainbow cheese. As you can imagine the cheese is multi-coloured, and extra stretchy creating one of a kind sandwiches that have become something of a foodie fixation.
The sandwich uses a number of differently coloured cheeses flavoured with different ingredients in the creation process to give them different colours. Lavender is added to create a blue coloured cheese, basil for green, and tomato for red, while the rich yellow colour is made by blending four different cheeses including mozzarella and gruyere.
5 – Nak Cheese
Naks are female Yaks and Tibetans use their milk to make cheese. It’s not this fact that makes this cheese so strange, however, after all, cheese is made from a variety of different animals from camels in Ethiopia to reindeer in Finland. No, what makes this cheese so odd is the end result.
Made by wrapping the curd from yak’s milk in cloth and pressing it to get rid of the water, this cheese, known as chhurpi, is allowed to solidify then cut into pieces from where it is allowed to dry, often over a wood fire. The result is an earth tasting cheese that is often harder than stones. People have been known to break their teeth on it, and it’s quite common to see people sucking on the cheese for ages to soften it.
4 – Pule
Pule cheese is made in Serbia and prepared from the milk of endangered Balkan donkeys. A crumbly, white cheese much like feta it comes from a single donkey farm in Zasavica roughly 80 kilometres outside the capital Belgrade. This cheese is produced by hand-milking a herd of just 100 of Balkan donkeys and is so rare it is often quoted as being the most expensive cheese in the world – about R25 000 a kilogram.
The cheese is produced to try to save the Balkan donkeys as a species, a tough ask given that a lot of money is needed and it takes almost 25 litres of Donkey’s milk to produce just one kilogram of this smoked cheese.
Despite its price the cheese is highly prized and used in top-end restaurants for its rich flavour and the fact that donkey milk has about 60 times more vitamin C than cow’s milk.
3 – Milbenkäse
You may have heard of dust mites and fear them eating you alive while you sleep, but it’s possible you have never heard of the cheese mites, which are an integral part of the creation of the German cheese, Milbenkäse.
It is made by flavouring balls of quark (a type of soft cheese) with caraway and salt, then allowing them to dry in a wooden box containing rye flour and cheese mites for roughly three months. An enzyme in the digestive juices excreted by the mites causes the cheese to ripen quite quickly.
The ideal time to eat the cheese is said to be when it looks like a loaf of rye bread, but some aficionados like to leave it for up to a year until it takes on an almost black colour.
2 – Casu Marzu
No list like this could possibly be complete without mention of Casu Marzu. A Sardinian cheese Casu Marzu is infested with live maggots and eaten with these little critters wriggling around inside it. In fact, Casu marzu is considered to be unsafe to eat when the maggots in the cheese have died, which makes transporting it long distances and selling it in foreign countries extremely difficult.
The cheese is in fact made by cutting a slice of the rind off a whole wheel of Pecorino thereby allowing the fly “Piophila casei” to lay its eggs inside the cheese. Once hatched the larvae begin to eat through the cheese, and the acid from the maggots’ digestive system breaks down the cheese’s fats making it extremely soft and creamy.
Because of European Union food hygiene-health regulations, the cheese has been outlawed, and those making or distributing the cheese can face heavy fines. This has not stopped enterprising Sardinians who are happy to take the risk, and sell the cheese on the black market where can fetch double the price of an ordinary block of pecorino cheese.
1 – Human milk cheese
The first thing you need to know is that no human breast milk cheese has ever been made commercially available. Usually produced as a stunt by restaurants and small artisanal food stores the quantities that can reliably be produced are so small that no large scale production would ever be possible.
The craze for human breast milk cheese was started in America when New York chef Daniel Angerer blogged in 2010 about making cheese from a combination of cow’s milk and his wife’s lactation — Mommy’s Milk, as he called it. The press published thousands of articles and New Yorkers queued up to try it.
“I got fan mail, and I got hate mail — people are on the extremes about this,” he said at the time, adding that the recipe was inspired by an overabundance of his wife’s milk coupled with a lack of freezer space.
“It’s not like I dove into it and started eating it for breakfast, it was an experiment … I think people’s reaction has less to do with taste, and more to do with morality.”
Since then a variety of cheeses have been produced from Wisconsin Bang, which people who have tried it describe as, “deliciously creamy,” to “City Funk” and “Sweet Air Equity”.
Following the addition of a human breast milk cheese to the menu of a restaurant in Switzerland, animal rights organisation PETA said they were inspired to ask American ice-cream giant Ben & Jerry’s to, “switch from unhealthy bovine juice stolen from tormented calves (aka “cow milk”) to healthier, humane human breast milk.”