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Armpit Cheese
November 30, 2012 9:03 AM   Subscribe

"The milk curds were then strained and pressed, yielding unique smelling fresh cheeses" "These cheeses are scientific as well as artistic objects"

"We were fascinated by the similarities between cheese and human microbiodiversity and curious about the historic origin of cheese microflora. Given the physicality of cheesemaking, we speculated on the human origins of many of the unique cheese flavors. "

PDF of thesis chapter about this project.

A collaboration of Christina Agapakis and Sissel Tolaas
posted by dubold (31 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I never chewed my nails, so it wasn't a habit I ever had to break. That said, another student did their 7th grade science project on something like this -- culture what "grows" on your body.

Now, fungus (to me) is rarely, if ever, something pleasant to look at. But the awful fuzzy black death rot stuff that was from the "under the fingernails" culture permanently put me off from ever considering to chew my nails.

All that said, I didn't read the PDF, but do they break down the active bacteria that they think were the active agents ? Typical wild strains of what is commercially used ? And did anyone actually eat the cheese ? (ugh..)
posted by k5.user at 9:08 AM on November 30, 2012


My Murray's Cheese of the Month Club gift membership is now ruined.
posted by gilrain at 9:13 AM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Propionibacterium used to make Swiss cheese is a major contributor to the smell of the human armpit16 and Limburger cheese offers a remarkably close substitute for the smell of human feet, an attractant for certain species of mosquito.

We identified several species of bacteria: Providencia vermicola, Morganella morganii, Proteus mirabilis, Enterococcus faecalis Hafnia alvei, Micobacterium lactium, Bacillus pumilus, and Bacillus clausii. Many of the identified species have been found in metagenomic sequencing of isolates from the human body, as well as in standard cheeses (table 5.2). In particular, Proteus vulgaris, closely related to P. mirabilis, is found on cheeses and noted for its strong aroma, E. faecalis is a lactic acid bacteria commonly found in raw milk and cheese, and H. alvei is an
enterobacteria common in cheese and added as a secondary culture in certain artisanal cheeses for a cauliflower-like flavor.

B. pumilus has been identified in cheese spoilage, as has M. lactium, an actinobacterium that is also commonly found on unspoiled cheese and closely related to bacteria commonly found on washed rind cheeses (Rachel Dutton, personal communication). The cross-over between bacteria found on cheese and on human skin offers a tantalizing hint at how our bacterial symbionts have come to be part of our culinary cultures, how bacterial and human cultures co-evolve.

Of the bacteria isolated from the cheeses, P. mirabilis had the most powerful unpleasant odor (table 5.2). Cheeses that did not contain P. mirabilis were identified as the nicest and most neutral smelling, all of which were of armpit origin. The diversity we observed in isolated colonies, however, was not sufficient to explain the difference in the smells between cheeses


In the PDF, there's a table of what bacteria were active in the various cheeses, with a note from volunteers about the smells.
posted by dubold at 9:14 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I worked at Whole Foods, in the cheese department, the thing we loved to do most was to stick a wedge of cheese under a co-worker's nose and ask "Does this smell okay to you?"

Sometimes we did it because No! It does not smell okay!, and it's funny. Sometimes we did it because it was a new cheese to us and we didn't know how it was "supposed" to smell.

It's fascinating to me that something can smell terrible but taste delicious, and not just delicious, but taste different from the way it smells. A really ripe Taleggio can clear a room, but (to some of us, anyway) it tastes really good in spite of smelling awful.
posted by rtha at 9:18 AM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


That's okay, I didn't want to eat lunch today anyhow.

the most pleasant and cheese-like smelling cheese, Armpit-3

These are words that don't belong together.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love cheese, but I've also always thought that the first person to have tasted it must have been exceptionally courageous and/or hungry.
This story reaffirms me in my belief.
posted by Skeptic at 9:27 AM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


t's fascinating to me that something can smell terrible but taste delicious

It's also context: butyric acid is responsible for the smell of parmesan as well as the smell of vomit. It can either smell "good" or "bad", depending on what you see when you smell it.
posted by dubold at 9:29 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I ... Umm... Have a habit of rubbing behind my ears (where my glasses rest most of the day) and sometimes smelling it. It smells like cheese. My cat loves to lick my glasses there as well. I wonder what cheese bacteria composes my ear-flesh.
posted by symbioid at 9:31 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to be judgmental, symbioid, but you disgust me.
posted by Think_Long at 9:38 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


my feets smell like the detergent i use to wash my socks.

humans are so gross.
posted by elizardbits at 9:52 AM on November 30, 2012


butyric acid is responsible for the smell of parmesan

That's why I can't stand the stuff! Thanks for that tidbit.
posted by Jpfed at 9:53 AM on November 30, 2012


“A corpse is meat gone bad. Well, and what's cheese? Corpse of milk.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:55 AM on November 30, 2012


There are a lot of other compounds that make a good Parm smell good, too! Not so much with vomit. Probably.
posted by rtha at 9:55 AM on November 30, 2012


rtha: "When I worked at Whole Foods, in the cheese department, the thing we loved to do most was to stick a wedge of cheese under a co-worker's nose and ask "Does this smell okay to you?""

[rant]

Some Whole Foods markets such as the one here in Glendale actually have a reasonable selection of cheeses with some pretty decent choices in the mix. However (and presumably this is due to some health code type regulations?) even at WF all cheese is wrapped in lots of plastic. I hate this so much!!!
(And, yes, I know they'll cut up some of those cheeses for me if I ask...)

Having grown up and lived in a few places in Europe I'm used to walking into fine cheese stores with shelves full of fully exposed non-wrapped cheese. Once you regain consciousness and recover from the original olfactory onslaught you experience when stepping into the store you can actually smell the cheeses and make informed choices.

America, why do you insist on making cheese shopping a game of lottery???
Argh!

[/rant]
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:56 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, toe cheese is really a thing? Not to mention, fromundah.
posted by SillyShepherd at 10:10 AM on November 30, 2012


I'm disappointed that the PDF doesn't indicate whether or not they ever tasted any of the cheeses.
posted by slogger at 10:40 AM on November 30, 2012


Yeah, wrapping cheese in plastic is an abomination*. We had a plastic-free cheese area for a while, which is where we kept cheeses that do better out of refrigeration (for a few hours at least) and taste and smell better when at room temp. But a lot of our cheese was wrapped because we did a volume of business that precludes cutting everything to order, although we were always happy to cut a larger or smaller piece when we were asked.

* I wrap my cheese at home in plastic. Sigh.
posted by rtha at 10:47 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


all cheese is wrapped in lots of plastic.

Quoting some French marketing guy from where I don't remember: In American the cheese is dead so it must be wrapped up in plastic, but in France the cheese is a living thing.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:59 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I recently met a young woman from Austria who was studying at The Center for Dairy Research. After asking about the kangaroos ("I never tire of that one!" she grimaced) I asked her about the cheese she was studying. "Pasturized process cheese."
I told her: "Here we call it American cheese."
"Oh." she said. "We don't."
posted by Floydd at 11:11 AM on November 30, 2012


You can store unwrapped cheese in the fridge in a large tupperware with a couple of paper towels on the bottom. Don't overcrowd -- there needs to be some room for air circulation. Wipe out the excess moisture once or twice a week and change paper towels. I've kept cheeses in good condition for a couple of months that way. If a little mold grows, just scrape it off with a knife before you serve. And always bring cheese up to room temperature before you serve them.
posted by haricotvert at 11:16 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love this.

At home I have a list of microorganisms found in food that also live in disgusting places.

Two of my favorites are one yeast (I think) that lives in between dog's toes and is also used to make corn chips. My dog's toes smelled exactly like Doritos. Try this if you have dogs. The other one is found in diseased ungulate hooves and in Some fancy cheeses.

The sense of smell is so weird, how it seems to tie directly to memory and emotions while skipping rational thought. No other sense can give that whole body feeling of being at another place in another time that you just can't name.

I don't know what it says about me, but there are particular shit smells that I find kind of pleasant and warm and fuzzy, in low concentrations. Only once did I verbalize this, and it led to embarrassment for everyone involved. I no longer compliment strangers on particularly good farts.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 12:43 PM on November 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I, like rtha, was for some years a WFM cheesemonger. I'm surprised there's no explicit mention of Brevibacterium linens here (though it is implied in passing in terms of the smell of Limburger). B. linens is the orange stuff that is encouraged to grow on the surfaces of washed-rind cheeses. They smell like feet because the same thing grows on feet. If I were doing a body-organisms-to-cheese project, my first experiment would have been to try to make a feet-to-washed-rind cheese.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:46 PM on November 30, 2012


Isn't there a legend that Brie is named after the original host of the microbe... I know it is a "romantic" idea... or slightly less romantic when you think what she(they) may have been doing in a cheese cave!

I like to tell this story with a particular yeast... as the microbe to watch my family cringe.
posted by mrgroweler at 1:10 PM on November 30, 2012


I've recently become aware that my dog's feet smell like ... feet. Not "dog feet"; they smell like more-or-less freshly washed human feet. Maybe not astounding, but surprising to me, nonetheless. His legpits don't smell like human armpits, for instance.
Doroteo Arango II: Two of my favorites are one yeast (I think) that lives in between dog's toes and is also used to make corn chips. My dog's toes smelled exactly like Doritos. Try this if you have dogs
Appointment set. Also: not likely to eat Doritos soon, regardless.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:47 PM on November 30, 2012


Two of my favorites are one yeast (I think) that lives in between dog's toes and is also used to make corn chips. My dog's toes smelled exactly like Doritos. Try this if you have dogs.

Quoting for truth. My dog's toes smell like Fritos.
posted by spitefulcrow at 1:48 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


They smell like feet because the same thing grows on feet.

Previously.
posted by Floydd at 3:53 PM on November 30, 2012


That is why I hate cheese.
posted by SageLeVoid at 2:34 AM on December 1, 2012


So why do we claim that the cheese smells like feet, rather than that feet smell like cheese?
posted by jefflowrey at 7:07 AM on December 1, 2012


Just dropping in to note that I clicked on this page, got to the beginning of the explanation, and immediately, viscerally clicked away, all NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.

I was impressed at anything that could inspire such a reaction after years of internet, so I had to come back and read some more.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:25 AM on December 1, 2012


Yay! Now I know the SCIENCE behind dog Frito-toes!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:32 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Secret Sex Of Cheese
Until pretty recently, a big chunk of fungal species were thought to reproduce without sex–until people really started to look. It turns out, there’s a lot more sex going on in the fungal world (on the down-low) than people thought. And that includes fungi that are used to make delicious blue cheese. Jeanne Ropars and colleagues in France, the home of Roquefort cheese, looked at the genomes of the mold species used in this particular cheese to see what kind of funny business was going on in their snack of choice. They found much more diversity than could be explained by asexual reproduction. And even more telling, the genes used by fungi to find mating partners have been kept intact and functional by evolution, meaning there’s probably some sex going on.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:23 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


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