Many a kid (and adult too, for that matter) has turned up their nose at an unfamiliar cheese by saying, “It smells like feet!” Although that seems like quite the insult to the cheese and the cheesemaker who crafted it, their noses certainly haven’t deceived them.
While there are a whole host of bacteria that give rise to human body odors, there is a very specific strain of bacteria that creates the sweaty-gym-shoe scent of smelly feet: Brevibacterium linens. The scent itself is the result of the bacteria’s metabolic process which produces sulfur-containing compounds known as S-methyl thioesters.
This same bacterial strain, Brevibacterium linens, is also used to ferment several varieties of cheese including Munster, Raclette, and Limburger cheese. The latter cheese, Limburger, is perhaps the best known of the “stinky” cheeses as it not only remains quite popular in Germany and surrounding countries (as well as with immigrants from said countries), but has appeared in numerous movies and cartoons over the years as the butt of smelly cheese jokes.