Toe Jam Cheese (Yes, really)

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    Jan 10, 2014 8:14 PM GMT
    cheese-stinky_TS_200245844-001_112213-61
    Cheese is known for its stinky odor. But, cheeses at one exhibit at the Science Gallery Dublin in Trinity College Dublin come from an especially smelly source -- human toe, armpit, belly button and mouth bacteria.

    Selfmade, which is part of the Grow Your Own…Life After Nature exhibition, features different “microbial sketches” of cheeses created with bacteria samples from various people. Each cheese supposedly smells similar to the donor’s body odor.

    The team took different microbial strains from the subjects. Next, they identified microbes that made up that person’s specific scent using a method known as headspace gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis, which can find volatile organic compounds in a sample.

    Then, the cheese making process began. Milk was added to the microbe sample, and spoiled with a bacteria called Lactobacillus. When the sample curdled, the team separated the clumps and aged them with yeast to make different varieties of cheese.

    "I'm really excited about things that sometimes are a little bit gross, a little bit disgusting,” microbiologist Christina Agapakis, who worked on the project, admitted at a Pop Tech presentation about the human cheese project.

    Agapakis partnered with artist Sissell Tolaas for the project. They explained in a statement that they were interested in creating cheese from the human bacteria to showcase the different aspects of smell and microbial communities.

    “Many of the stinkiest cheeses are hosts to species of bacteria closely related to the bacteria responsible for the characteristic smells of human armpits or feet,” they said. “Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies? How do humans cultivate and value bacterial cultures on cheeses and fermented foods? How will synthetic biology change with a better understanding of how species of bacteria work together in nature as opposed to the pure cultures of the lab?”

    Agapakis admitted to NPR that people were a little weirded out by the idea.

    "People were really nervous and uncomfortable, and kind of making these grossed out faces," she said. "Then they smell the cheese, and they'll realize that it just smells like a normal cheese."

    But, the creators say that you can’t snack on this kind of cheese.

    "This isn't cheese for eating," Agapakis said at Pop Tech. "This is cheese for thinking."

    For more on how the cheese was made, watch the Selfmade video below.

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    Jan 10, 2014 8:23 PM GMT
    I love smelly cheeses; Limburger, Stilton, Roquefort, you name it. The stinkier the better. I think the smelliest ones are called washed rind cheeses.
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    Jan 10, 2014 9:41 PM GMT
    Yes, but would you eat this cheese?
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    Jan 10, 2014 9:56 PM GMT
    and you mocked me for the vicks on the feet. LOL. I love good ripe cheese, but lets not be ridiculous.
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    Jan 10, 2014 9:59 PM GMT
    Yeah, we did that exercise in dairy microbiology class, um... 32 years ago? Most of the cheese bacteria are the same or similar species to what you would find on human skin, but usually different strains or slightly different species of the same genus. We did it both ways - isolated the microbes from many kinds of cheese and made cheese from lab strains. Of course, it only takes a tiny bit to isolate microbes - we got to eat the rest! (BTW: Toe jam would usually get you something like swiss cheese.)

    Reminds me of a great quote I saw on TV a while back. As the narrator was going down the stairs to a Paris cheese cellar, he said. "It smells like rotten eggs trampled by the unwashed feet of a thousand teenage boys!"
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    Jan 17, 2014 3:42 PM GMT
    If I had to choose between this or casu marzu... I'm really not what I'd do with myself.
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    Jan 17, 2014 5:20 PM GMT
    vla8 saidIf I had to choose between this or casu marzu... I'm really not what I'd do with myself.

    I had to look it up ... and regretted I did.