The first cheese was allegedly made 4000 years ago and it has always been one of people's favorite food and ingredient, with cheese production always being one of the most profitable branches of the food industry. Even today, when the number of people avoiding animal products is constantly growing, the production of cheese has not been disrupted – it was just altered to offer a great variety of vegan cheeses as well.
And no matter if it was served as a fancy snack for wine degustation, as party food, or used as an ingredient for our dinner, cheese is always welcomed and gladly eaten. Wait, is it always? Not necessarily! Even though our first thought of cheese is the mozzarella without which we can hardly imagine a succulent pizza, the cheddar which is a standard guest in everyone's favorite Mac and Cheese, or the American cheese that makes the McDonalds cheeseburger so deliciously cheesy, apparently, there are certain kinds of cheese that are just too weird and too gross to be listed as edible, and not to mention a favorite. At times, the desire to make something unique and uncommon has gone too far and the final product is just too eccentric for this world. Maybe in some far future, those kinds of cheese will become a staple, but for now, they are staying on the "No, Thank You" List. However, there are also a lot of less-famous kinds of cheese from all around the world, that certainly deserve our attention and a chance to become our first choice for our next meal. So, here it is – the ultimate list of friendly suggestions for 10 unusual kinds of cheese you should try and 10 to avoid.
Note: this article is divided into 2 parts. In both parts the author tells you about 5 great cheeses you should taste and 5 you would better avoid.
The Part One
- Go for It – Sakura Cheese
This smooth, creamy, pure white cheese is manufactured on the island of Hokkaido in Japan. It is made with yeast instead of white mold, and it is then matured on top of cherry blossom leaves ("Sakura" in Japanese, hence the name). With a slight acidity and sweetness blend together in perfect balance and the refined aroma of the beautiful pink cherry blossoms, this cheese has been praised all over the world. The way it's commonly presented, with a delicate dried sakura flower on top of each small wheel and a few dried leaves underneath it makes this cheese a real treat for all your senses.
- Avoid: Casu Marzu
If you know its name is literally translated as "rotten cheese", you can already assume something is wrong with this cheese. Created in Sardinia as a variation of Pecorino cheese, the Casu Marzu is made when a whole wheel of Pecorino is left outside with the upper rind removed, which allows cheese flies to lay their eggs inside the cheese. After a while, the eggs hatch and the larvae begin to eat through the cheese while the acid from their digestive system makes the texture of cheese very soft, almost liquid. By the time it's ready for consumption, the wheel will contain thousands of worms. If you think this is not gross enough, let me tell you it is served altogether with the worms!
- Go for It – Parenica
This steamed and smoked sheep cheese coming from the vivid mountainous regions of Slovakia is definitely shaped like no other cheese! Instead of the traditional wheels or slices, the Parenica cheese has a unique and attractive spiral form made from cheese “ribbon” which is 6 cm wide and 6 meters long. It has a golden-yellow color and soft, creamy structure with rich and pleasantly salty flavor. It actually looks like finely sculpted butter you would find in a fancy restaurant. Its name derived from the Slovakian word for “steaming”, this hand-made cheese is traditionally served with boiled potatoes or halushky noodles.
- Avoid – Milbenkase
This German delicacy whose name is translated as "mite cheese" is made of cow quark (similar to cottage cheese) which is salted, shaped like a wheel, dried and sealed in boxes. And everything would be perfectly fine if those boxes weren't full of mites! The cheese stays inside the boxes for three full months during which the mites eat the rind and their digestive juices ferment the cheese. Mites stay on the surface of the wheel forming a dark brown "crust". Afterward, the cheese is "done" and ready to eat. And yes, you assume it right – the mites are not removed before serving. Good luck with that!
- Go for It – Aaruul Cheese
The Aaruul cheese that looks like caramel fudge is a staple of Mongolian nomad people, and it is traditionally made in summer when milk is abundant. Aaruul can be made from goat, sheep, yak or horse milk, which may be unusual for most of us, but is absolutely common for Mongolians. The milk is enriched with wild herbs, fruits and sugar, then boiled until solid, sliced and eventually dried. This process enables the cheese to be kept for quite a long period without spoiling and it gives it a very unusual texture, while the unique combination of ingredients gives it an extraordinary taste: sharp, sweet and very aromatic.
- Avoid – Charcoal Cheese
No, it’s not called “charcoal” just because it’s black as coal – this cheese contains real charcoal indeed! It will definitely look astonishing on any cheese board and will catch everyone’s attention, but you may not be so thrilled if you know what’s inside. As a matter of fact, this is a creamy mature cheddar infused with edible charcoal, which gives it the unique completely black color. Those who dared try it say it’s very strong and pungent, and it tastes quite good – nothing like the burned carbon atoms. On the good side, charcoal allegedly helps us detox our body, but still – eating something that has burned wood inside is quite odd.
- Go for It – Donkey Cheese
Yes, it sounds odd. And yes, it is odd. But worth trying! This donkey cheese is the most expensive cheese in the world with an incredible price of $600 per pound! It’s extremely high price is due to the fact that making a kilogram of cheese requires 25 liters of milk, and donkeys only produce 200 ml per day. Also, donkey milk apparently has a great healing effect on certain respiratory problems. The cheese is pure white with a crumbly structure similar to cottage cheese, and with a very rich taste, but it won’t be an easy job to purchase it even if you have the money – it is produced and sold only in the village of Zasavica in Serbia.
- Avoid – Cold Raclette
Raclette is one of the most famous and most appreciated kinds of cheese produced in Switzerland – it’s so special it even has its own grill known under the same name. It has a wonderful and rich flavor, so why is it put in the Avoid list? Because of its pungent aroma! Normally, raclette has a very strong smell similar to that of dirty sweat socks. Luckily, it is most often eaten melted on this special grill and topped onto boiled potatoes, corn or mushrooms – and here comes the good part: the disgusting smell is magically and significantly reduced when cheese is heated! So, if you still want to try it, make sure you avoid using it in cold sandwiches or cheese boards!
- Go for It – Bieno Sirenye
This hard sheep cheese with piquant and salty flavor is made in the Mariovo region in Macedonia. Its name translated from Macedonian means “beaten cheese” and it got it because the curds are literally beaten with a special tool to remove some of the fats and give the cheese its unusual texture that reminds of homemade airy bread. Interesting enough, this “beat” has to be done in a well-determined rhythm! The cheese is then ripened in special wood containers, then sundried for a few days to get its waxy yellow color and unique flavor. Eventually, it is being salted for a few days using a special procedure, and kept in brine until serving.
- Avoid – Epoisses
Tucked into a cute round wooden box and with an incredibly creamy texture resembling like a paste, this cheese coming from France could be all that you can ask from cheese, but alas, there must be some good reason that puts it on the avoid list. And there is, indeed – it’s incredibly strong, repulsive smell. The Epoisses is so smelly it became known as “the cheese that was banned from public transport in France”! Apparently, if it starts smelling like ammonia, it has gone bad and is no longer edible, but if it smells like someone who hasn’t taken a shower for over a week, you can enjoy it. Oh, how lovely!
To learn about ten additional kinds of cheese, wait for the second part of the article.