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Sep 9, 2014

This Stinks: Vigneron du Marché (aux Truffes)

THE STORY:

Even French comedians make fun of the French by calling themselves "les fromages qui puent" ("the stinky cheeses"). And I certainly refer to "stinky cheese" enough. But what are the cheeses that really reek? The ones where you need special packaging to transport them home and store them? The ones that smell less like a food and more like a science experiment gone wrong? The nose knows.

The two French cheeses most famous for being stinky are Epoisses and Camembert (when something smells bad in France, the expression is "Ça pu Camembert!"). However, Camembert doesn't even come close to my top ten list of whopping stinkers. Even Epoisses doesn't make the list; in terms of stench, Epoisses is like a little Yorkshire Terrier that thinks it's bigger than a St. Bernard.

Here, in my opinion, are the cheeses that should be famous for being stinky, the ones that round out my Top 10 Stinkiest French Cheeses list (which contains 12 cheeses, apart from Epoisses and Camembert):
 
 
Livarot (and the derivative Le Douville, which might be even worse)

 

 
two classics: Roquefort (or, really, any strong blue) and Munster

 
Maroilles and the related Vieux Lille (and it's terrible, rare offspring, Le Petit Gris)

 
Vigneron du Marché aux Truffes and Langres 

 
U Capraltu and Le Boucanier Chèvre Fumé, a cheese whose odor is so powerful, it must
-- literally -- be kept under glass. On the other hand, though it's inarguably strong, it's also
rather pleasant and not at all like a teenage boy's gym locker. It's smoky.

Just a word of advice, not only must such cheeses be stored in air-tight containers, make sure that the containers are either glass or disposable, because I can assure you that the smell will never leave plastic. Also, from personal experience, these are not the cheeses to try to sneak into movie theaters as snacks or to bring on trains as picnics, because you will not be popular.

THE CHEESE: Vigneron du Marché (aux Truffes)

Unwrapping a Vigneron du Marché is really an all-senses experience. It's multi-colored, with a muted orange crust and, since we have a version with truffles, a speckled chartreuse layer in the middle. You can both feel and hear the outer layer, as you take off the paper, like opening a tissue you've just sneezed into: the resistance of the paper, the sticky, tacky mucus-like layer forming strands between the paper and cheese wheel. And then, just before taste, there's the smell. There's no escaping it. Literally.


Despite the old-timey image on the wrapper, Vigneron aux Truffes, or the "Winemaker with Truffles" is a relatively new cheese. It's one of the ten variations of the Vigneron, which Mr. Fischer's daughter likes to eat with raspberry jam, created at the beginning of the 1990s by the Maison Fischer in Alsace. The other flavors are Marc de Gewurzt (the alcohol made the grapes leftover from making Gewurtztraminer), Confiture (jam), Herbes, Piment (pepper), Gingembre (ginger), Gewurtztraminer, Winstub (wine-room), Provence (Herbes de Provence), and Raisins au Marc (another alcohol made from wine-making grapes).

The cheese, made from pasteurized cows' milk, is aged 15 days. After that, it's sliced and stuffed with a paste of black truffles. That really adds some oomph.
 

It's eaten between 15 and 30 days, though I feel somehow suspicious that the particular piece I buy is more like 130 days old. The manufacturers do say that "some people like it more aged." Well, it appears I may not be one of those people.

I will say this, as awfully stinky as it is, the texture in the mouth is lovely -- oozy and creamy. The taste of this cheese is, um, how shall I put this diplomatically?, like edible camping socks. But better.


THE CONNECTION:

Vigneron du Marché (aux Truffes or otherwise) may not be the stinkiest cheese in France. On the other hand, it may be...it's debatable. Plus it has a layer of a sticky mucus-like substance on it that tricks your mind into believing it's even ranker than your nose thinks. But what is beyond any doubt is that there is a level of odiferous stench that will make the fainthearted run for cover.

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