What’s that smell? It’s the stinky French cheese.

I swear I didn’t fart on the train.

Even though the most putrid smell festered in the train car. And it was all my fault. It smelled like the gas of a thousand sick cows after eating a questionably wilted salad. But I swear the smell didn’t seep from the depths of my bowels.

You see, it all started earlier that day at the Musee d’Orsay.

Our stint in Paris during the Great European Backpacking Adventure required une taste de fromage. Or, stated even more eloquently, sweet Mary Mother of all coagulated milk protein, bestow upon me all the deliciously stinky French cheeses.  To achieve these lofty cheese aspirations, we recruited the expertise of friend and French local, Justine, a foreign exchange student at my university and sister in my sorority.

We met Justine at the steps of the Musee d’Orsay for a cheese picnic.

Justine brought a baguette, three classic French cheeses, and her stinky cheese expertise. This is what we tried:

  1. Selles-sur-Cher  |  a soft goat cheese wrapped in musty blue-gray mold.
  2. Fourme d’Ambert  |  a cow’s milk semi-hard bleu cheese. One of the oldest French cheeses, in production for over 1,000 years.
  3. Rocamadour  |  a creamy goat cheese with rich flavor.

They. Were. So. Delicious.

What’s so special about French cheese?

Specific types of cheeses are protected in France by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôolée (AOC). This means that the government designated specific regions for the production of certain cheeses, butters, wines, etc. This preserves the tradition and the quality standards and integrity of the cheese. When you eat any French cheese with the AOC label, it guarantees that the product is produced in the unique methods to be expected of the region of origin. In simple terms, it’s legit.

Like if your grandmother and a roll of Camembert de Normandie were hanging onto dear life from the Eiffel Tower and you only had time to save one, it’d have to be the Camembert. It’s protected. Not that your grandmother isn’t special or worth saving, she just doesn’t have that AOC designation.

French cheese is special. There are over 300 varieties. Approximately 40 of these have that AOC designation. There’s soft cheese and hard cheese and veined cheese and goat cheese and oh my god why am I writing about cheese when I’m on a diet.

And many of these French cheeses are forbidden from ever entering the United States. The FDA set specific regulations for imported cheese. Those that are unpasteurized or those that are aged for less than 60 days do not get the green light to enter the land of the free, home of the pasteurized. Why? Health and allergen risks. You could be risking your life eating these stinky French cheese. That’s how I like to live. Dangerously French cheesy.

So there we were, enjoying our AOC-designated stinky French cheese picnic on the stairs of the Musee d’Orsay.

Of course, I tried to maintain etiquette, observing Justine as she ate the cheese with proper small bites. But here’s me, the American With An Appetite gluttonously eyeing the remaining cheese, exercising as much restraint as will could muster. I genuinely could have shoved that entire moldy cheese wheel in my piehole. I wanted to. But this was France. I had to portray that tres chic appearance.

With the French stinky cheeses stinking in front of me, this cheese lover battled between dignity and devouring the whole lot.

I HAD to take the remaining cheese with me. How could food so delicious go to waste? You can’t find this cheese at your average grocery stores in the US. For all I knew, it could be my last time in France eating stinky French cheese.

Why yes, I certainly did put the cheese in my backpack to snack on later.

We left the cheese picnic, said goodbye to dear Justine, continued sightseeing for the day.

So back to the train incident…

MUCH later that evening, we boarded an overnight train to Barcelona. We met our bed mates: some gentlemen and a free spirited artist who spoke whimsically about afternoons spent painting in Monet’s countryside and mornings bathed in French sunlight next to her temporary French lover. We spent time conversing about our adventures until everyone retired for bed.

It’s always strange falling asleep in the same room as strangers.

Not long after resting my head to sleep for the night, the melatonin rush to my brain was disrupted by a guttural roar in my stomach.

Hungry. Famished. I was starving.

All I’d really eaten that day was a savory crepe, indulgent hot chocolate and macarons at Angelinas, and baguette with stinky cheese.


I have the delicious French cheese in my backpack! 

The joy. The genius. Thank goodness past me knew that future me would be in dire need of a midnight snack.

I silently reached for my backpack at my feet and slowly unzipped pocket. Quiet, quiet, quiet…

The bag crinkled as I cautiously retrieved it. But no attempts at discreetness could avoid the offensiveness about to invade our tiny little train car room.

Opening the bag of cheeses released the most repugnant, repulsive odor. Like a colony of maggots marinated in my warm backpack and breathed noxious fire into the train car.

Did the stinky French cheese get… stinkier? It certainly did.

Some of our roommates began to stir. Oh god, is the smell waking them up? Do they think I just ripped one?!?!

But my stomach roared. And the memory of the delicious cheese picnic danced in my head. I took my chances. I took one quick bite of Fourme d’Ambert, then promptly wrapped the cheeses to try to trap their stink from permeating the train car even more.

The next morning I confessed to Tammy what I did that night, then painfully discarded the remaining cheese in the trash. RIP.

We both agreed that I was disgusting and convinced ourselves that our trainmates probably thought I farted, which, given the truth of what really happened, was probably the more palatable story.

For days, the insides of my backpack reeked each time it opened. Like someone unexpectedly exhaled their morning breathe in my face.

So a note to future gluttons and cheese lovers traveling to France to taste some stinky cheese: Don’t let pride or dignity or manners get in the way of devouring your cheese. Eat and enjoy. Otherwise your guilt will have you carry it around the fester in a backpack all day only to smell like a raging hot fart when you take it out later.

Today, January 20, is National Cheese Lover’s Day (my new favorite holiday).

I had to share this story to mark this very important date and commemorate my favorite cheese memory from my travels. Stay stinky, my friends!

Me, post cheese picnic, enjoying the gluttony. P.S. That’s Justine. She’s a fantastic human.

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