Welcome to CODY'S WORLD OF CHEESE, where our resident cheesemonger Cody Reiss explains what funky fromages you should definitely be eating.
Smell has been an integral part of human survival since the very beginning. Something reeks of rotting ass and terrible garbage? Don’t eat it. But if you always followed your nose’s guidance, you’d miss out on some of the world’s most unexpected and novel cheeses: washed rinds. These aromatically off-putting cheeses can be quite challenging, but hey—so can my mom. Does that mean I avoid her? Well, yeah, I guess… sometimes. Anyway, sometimes the juice is worth the squeeze, and these smelly-ass cheeses certainly reward with big flavors, from meaty to citric, that are unique to the dairy kingdom. So, allow me to guide you softly into this smelly world, and to present this week’s sticky stankeroo: Maroilles.
We often call them “monastic” cheeses because back in the day, monks would make them, moistening their dry and cracking rinds in leftover hooch. These boozy baths brought beefy-tasting blessings and boo-boo body odor aromas—just the sick kinda shit these monks really got off on.
Maroilles is a semi-soft (my nickname in Hebrew school), cow’s-milk, washed rind cheese from the very northern tip of France. Now, washed rind cheeses can be made from many different milks and come in all shapes and sizes, tastes, and textures. What most distinguishes this family of cheese is that, during the aging process, the outside of each wheel is given naughty little wipedowns with some sort of liquid—usually a salt brine or alcohol. These regular little mikvehs encourage the growth of the bacteria B. Linens ( brevibacterium linens), which, like rashes and people from Florida, is a known freak for salty, humid, and moist environments. As B. Linens grows on the outside of cheeses, it brings with it sulphuric compounds (thus the butt-y smells), and helps form beautiful, moist rinds of coral pink, sherbert orange, and Martian red.
The resulting cheeses can be hard (like my boy Scharfe Maxx and many other Alpines), or soft, squishy, and nearly gooping themselves. Maroilles is the soft kind—we often call them “monastic” cheeses because back in the day, monks would make them, moistening their dry and cracking rinds in leftover hooch. These boozy baths brought beefy-tasting blessings and boo-boo body odor aromas—just the sick kinda shit these monks really got off on. Though Maroilles is washed in brine, not beer, these perverse monks must still have liked it—they’ve been churning out stinky wheels of the stuff since the tenth century.
On first scope, Maroilles looks like a fucked up tropical Starburst—a pudgy square of smeared psychedelic orange, nearly bursting at its seams in peak ripeness.
But enough about monks: Let’s get down to god’s real work. On first scope, Maroilles looks like a fucked up tropical Starburst—a pudgy square of smeared psychedelic orange, nearly bursting at its seams in peak ripeness. The rind has a moist, visible granularity reminiscent of sunscreen smeared over sandy skin. As you squish the cheese between your fingers, the tacky outsides stick to the skin. (Trypophobia trigger warning): Inside, the paste of the cheese is the creamy color of white corn and flecked with many small holes. Texturalmente , it’s kind of like string cheese that’s been sitting in a hot car, ripping easily apart into craggly yet soft chunklets.
Ooh that SMELL, can’t you smell that smell? Maroilles is a stinky little boy. Right out the wrapper, it gives off heady rubber vibes—think of a fresh can of racquetballs, new rain boots, balloons—and just a hint of wet cave. If you’re brave enough to smush a little smidge into your smasher, you’ll notice that the bark is much gnarlier than the bite. The first taste sensations are delightfully buttery, moderately salty, and surprisingly bright. As little nugs break off under your dull chompers and dissolve easily onto your tongue, the interior’s acidity (which is citric, like preserved lemon) combines with the serious savoriness of the rind (fresh mushrooms) and the almost latex-y aroma, curiously culminating in a taste not too dissimilar from a rich milk chocolate. It’s these seemingly contradictory and unusual flavors that make Maroilles and it’s kinfolk so appealing, and a critical part of a well-rounded cheese vernacular.
If it is too intense for you, you can join the long line of otherwise wonderful women who have failed me at THE BACK of the cheese line. Once you finally make your way to the counter, look for a lighter intro to the washed rind family, like Taleggio, an italian classic, or the highly buttery Montagnard. If you’re looking to go deeper into the depths of the funk, then swipe right on me, sweet lady, and then grab a wheel of Epoisse de Bourgogne, another monastic stinker washed in Marc, or Winnimere, a super beefy American glooper.
If you do bring Maroilles home and want to use it outside the confines of your mouth, try sliding savage chunks into your savory tarts or quiches, adding a funky flourish to French onion soup, or slipping nugs into a bold ham slammy. Personally, I like to eat it like a modern monk: nothing but a big bag of Frito’s and a cup of Hennessy. But it also gets down with sweetness—bright jams and honey—maybe a dark bread, and some lil’ fricken’ pickles. In the gulpable department, what grows together goes together. Pair your stinky new friend with the kind of beverage the freaky old monks might have been drinking (and using to wash their cheeses); a Trappist beer or funky cider will do you right.
No matter how you smash it, you’ll be glad you did, and you’re likely to re-learn that age old lesson: Don’t judge a (Reiss) cheese by its stank. Until next time.
Cody Reiss is a comedian, cook, and former cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in New York City. He has made cheeses at home and on farms in Brazil and New York, and has traveled to more than 35 different countries, sampling over 350 different cheeses along the way. You can follow him on Instagram at @codyreiss.
This article originally appeared on Munchies US.