Possibly the stinkiest cheese I have ever had (!), the Vieux Lille (or Old Stinker) is the skunk of the cheese world. I bought this one because I had read on the blurb just how pungent it is, but more importantly... because apparently it is SO strong that it is banned from public transport in the region where it's born. And like a curious little boy told not to touch something, I just had to have it!
I waited a couple of days for the cheese to arrive in the post, and chuckled when I imagined a young Inspector Clouseau lookalike [Pierre] sneaking onto the number 57 bus in Northern France with sunglasses on and a wedge of cheese wrapped in tin foil stuffed down his pants. Within two blocks, even old 'Mr and Mrs LeFlandre' sitting five rows back to the left (with their worn senses) would be cursing, holding their noses and calling for the police. Pierre had no chance, although he may have had some convincing arguments for the cops with the smell emanating from his pants!
The Vieux Lille comes from Flanders in France and is also known locally as the 'Puant de Lille' - 'puant' meaning "strong smelling". The cheese is actually a type of cheese called the 'Mariolles', which I have yet to try. The ripening Mariolles is soaked in brine for about three months to make it, and which contributes to its salty taste. It is a semi-soft, unpasteurised cow's milk cheese and is free of any rind because of the brining process.
Knowing what I know, I was rather apprehensive in opening the vacuum sealed packet. I thought that, just like in Hollywood films entertaining viewers about the end of the earth by some lethal airborne virus, the plants around the kitchen would wilt, my eyes would begin to burn, and dogs within a 5 mile radius would whimper and run for their lives. It was nearly that bad. Having sliced it open, I shouted "Whoaaahhh!", as I stuck my nose in, "Zoe! ...It smells of bum!!". And it did. To my surprise I then realised that it was still within another layer of wrapping - that's how strong it is.
I did like this one but it is saying something about the potency of a cheese when you have to give it its own individual quarantine pod. In fact you have to feel a little bit of pity for it, the leper-like outcast of the cheeses, sitting alone on a shelf in this casing. The Old Stinker, as we speak, is contained within three protective layers in the fridge in its box, giving off a low flourescent green glow in the dark. But that said, it is still quite tasty and has a soft salty smokiness about it. The pungency is actually appreciated more when you have it in your mouth as it adds a lot to the taste.
I will give this one a 6 though - it is high maintenance when you have to get through three layers of casing every time you want a slice of it. And it's not the kind of cheese that you want to put on the cheese board when entertaining (for more than five minutes).... unless you feel like handing out nose pegs to your guests also (in fact - that can be quite entertaining. It makes your voice sound funny!). I must say as well, I was a little disappointed that 'houseofcheese' had it delivered in a box, rather than having it suspended in a glass container delivered by a faceless courier in a radioactive suit. That is just an open taunt in the face of health and safety!