As with most things, when it comes to buying cheese, it’s all relative. One person’s splurge is another’s weeknight go-to. Similarly, what certain shoppers deem a rarity might be ho-hum elsewhere. We scanned the world to find the cheeses that struck us as most unusual, distinctive, extreme, or otherwise memorable. From donkey milk delicacies to larvae invested luxuries, here are six of the world’s most unforgettable cheeses.
Vieux Boulogne, France
A washed-rind cheese — a category which itself is notoriously stinky — Vieux Boulogne is made from unpasteurized cow milk in the French town of Boulogne-sur-Mer. During production, the pre-salted, square-shaped cheese is washed with beer, which develops its characteristic wet earth and rotting leaves odor. Vieux Boulogne’s stench is so strong, the cheese has been scientifically proven to be the world’s smelliest (on multiple occasions).
Limburger, Belgium (the unofficial runner-up)
A semi-soft cheese made using cow’s milk, Limburger’s characteristic odor comes from the Brevibacterium linens used to ferment the cheese. This bacterium also happens to be present on human skin, and is partially responsible for body and foot odor.
The Most Controversial
Casu Marzu, Italy
A traditional Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese that’s served infested with larvae, casu marzu is not for the faint-hearted. The maggots aren’t just there for novelty, however; they process the cheese, giving casu marzu its distinct texture and flavor, which some describe as being like a particularly ripe gorgonzola.
Locals consider it unsafe to eat the cheese once the translucent maggots have died, but you can consume it with the wriggling larvae still inside, if you so choose.
Due to the (obvious) health concerns surrounding larvae-ridden cheese, commercial production and sale of casu marzu have been banned since the 1990s. But there are ongoing efforts to have the cheese declared a traditional food, therefore exempting it from E.U. law.
Dating back to the Middle Ages and produced exclusively in the village of Würchwitz, Milbenkäse is Germany’s answer to casu marzu.
Its name roughly translates to “mite cheese,” and it’s made with a quark base, which is flavored with salt and caraway, shaped into small wheels, then left to dry for a number of weeks. The wheels are then placed in a wooden box containing rye flour and cheese mites, which are left to do their thing for a period ranging between a few months to one year.
Milbenkäse is produced under a special permit granted by the local food safety office. Strict HACCP compliance is enforced. While still not technically 100 percent legal, this allows the cheese to fall into a relative legal gray area under E.U. regulations.
Bitto Storico, Italy
A rare Italian cheese produced in the Valtellina Valley in Lombardy, Bitto Storico is the world’s oldest commercially available cheese.
The Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) cheese takes its name from the valley’s Bitto river, and is produced during summer using a mixture of cow’s milk and Orobica goat’s milk (a species found exclusively in the Northern Italian Alps).
Bitto Storico can be aged for anywhere up to two decades, but is typically consumed between five and 10 years of age. In its youth, the cheese is soft, sweet, and delicate. As it ages, it takes on spicier, bitter notes. The higher the percentage of goat’s milk used in production, the longer the cheese can age.
The Most Expensive
Pule is made exclusively at Serbia’s Zasavica Special Nature Reserve, located 30 miles outside of Belgrade. At roughly $576 a pound, it is the world’s most expensive cheese, and its extreme price tag is made all the more surprising when you discover it’s made using donkey milk.
Donkey milk contains 60 times more vitamin C than cow’s, so it’s extremely healthy, but production is far from cost-effective. Around 25 liters are required to make just one kilogram of cheese, and each donkey typically produces just 200 milliliters per day.