I’ve eaten a lot of stinky cheeses in my life, and I don’t mean politely fragrant. I'm talking stink that could revive a dead dog.
But no matter how bad they smelled, they always smelled like cheese.
That changed a couple of weeks ago when I found a pale-colored Spanish wedge tucked into the Italian section of the cheese counter at my grocery store in Silver Spring, Maryland. I picked it up, squeezed it, and took a deep whiff through the plastic wrap.
The smell gave me a jolt.
When I got it home, I peeled away the plastic to reveal a scent so strong, I leaped back.
I glared at it for a minute, sizing it up. What was that smell?
The scent was that of a lover’s tryst in the dead of August on a beach located miles from air conditioning. Add wet dog, oyster, sea brine, and oregano.
This cheese was beyond stinky, it was downright lewd.
“La Serena," or the 'calm one,' is made from the milk of merino sheep. The milk is coagulated with a vegetable rennet extracted from the artichoke thistle, which gives it its unique smell and a rich, sharp, nutty, anchovy flavor.
The cheese, which has been made for centuries by local cheese makers in southwest Spain, comes from a stretch of grassland called La Serena in the province of Extremadura. With only a population of 80,000, there are more sheep there than people.
That’s good for me, because after experiencing the salty, nutty flavor, I wanted more. But the flavor was so distinct that it seemed to overpower every wine I drank with it.
Janet Fletcher, food writer of the San Francisco Chronicle, says that it's the acidity that makes La Serena so difficult to match with wines. You can read her story here.
I'm less picky, but Fletcher enjoyed it with the 2001 Lorinon Rioja from Bodegas Breton Criadores, “made mostly of Tempranillo of moderate weight and intensity, with cinnamon and clove aromas and a zippy blackberry fruitiness that cleansed the palate after the creamy cheese.”
Got a stinky cheese recommendation? Let me know!