You're nearing the end of a lovely French dinner, and as the salad begins to circulate,the smell of the cheese plate grabs you by the nose and smacks you around. You experience an otherworldly fug of mythic proportions. Your eyes water and your throat constricts. You pray for a quick death as the platter floats, seemingly under its own gaseous power, in your direction.
We're not talking an annoying Camembert diaper-pail scent or the heady pong of an elderly Roquefort. We're talking the scent of something in the process of transitioning from a living to a dead state.
You, my friend, should relax - make sure you've got a full glass of red wine and some baguette nearby. As a devotee of stinky cheeses, I'm happy to announce that you're in for a surprise, because your host cares enough about you to offer you something remarkable. Based on the smell, you might be enjoying any (or all) of the following:
Taleggio: An Italian cows-milk cheese best made in Valsassina in the Como region, this little gem looks innocent enough right out of the fridge, but it develops into something substantially smelly as it ripens. It's flavor has been characterized as "tangy" and "assertive", adjectives which can rightfully be called understatements. This is a cheese that will kick your ass and laugh at you. Awesome.
Epoisses: Cows milk. Burgundy region of France. Washed first with saltwater, then with rainwater mixed with Marc de Bourgogne two to three times a week. Favorite of Napoleon. Requires some effort to prevent it from melting down the side of your counter, across the kitchen, out the door where it will hitch a ride and abuse your credit card for days on end. Salty, creamy, pungent, unrepentant. A classic. If someone tries to serve you a Ami du Chambertin, you'll get something a lot like Epoisses.
Aged Cabrales: Cabrales blue cheese is produced only in the village of the same name and three villages of the Penamellera Alta Township located on the northern spur of the Picos de Europa in eastern Asturia. Raw cow, goat and ewe's milk make it into the final mix which is aged (slowly) in some deep, dark caves that are cold, oxygen-rich and humid. The product of all this care is dark, blue-gray and wizened-looking, a moldy heap of organic matter which only vaguely resembles food. Do yourself a favor and attempt to carve off a bit. It may shift to the left and right a few times to avoid your knife. Persevere. Tasting it will let you experience the beauty of the land it came from, the cows, the ewes, the goats. And the cave. Mostly the cave.
If you have a favorite stinky cheese, chime in.