April 19, 2013 photo shows owner Tony Zgraggen
posing for a photo at the Alp and Dell artisanal
cheese store in Monroe, Wis. The store is one of
the few places in the area where Limburger cheese,
famous for its smell, can be bought.
The sign above the bar in Baumgartner's Cheese Store
and Tavern warns visitors about the perils of sampling
the $3.25 house specialty a slab of Limburger cheese
on rye bread slathered with onions and mustard.
don't eat it with your nose."
sign might well add: Don't eat it in close proximity to
anyone you wish to remain friends with.
is a tranquil town of 10,000 nestled in the rolling
hills of southern Wisconsin, where pale brown cows gaze
soulfully from fields and silos dot the landscape.
Settled by Swiss and German immigrants, it boasts a
brewery, a cheesemaking museum, and a historic town
square dominated by a 1891 Romanesque-style courthouse
with a clock tower and bell that chimes on the hour.
charming place is also home to the stinkiest cheese in
1880, Limburger, which is smeared with a foul-smelling
bacteria to make it age quickly, was described by local
author John Luchsinger as "a premeditated outrage
on the organs of smell." Mark Twain wrote about
"a most evil and searching odor" in his 1882
tale, "The Invalid's Story." In the 1918
silent movie "Shoulder Arms," Charlie Chaplin
played a soldier at the front who, after opening a
package of Limburger, flings it into enemy lines,
forcing the Germans to surrender.
April 19, 2013 photo shows a sign above the bar in
Baumgartner's Cheese Store and Tavern in Monroe,
Wis. The sign warns diners about the famed
"stinky cheese", which is produced at a
plant in the southern Wisconsin town.
2011, comedian Daniel Lawrence Whitney also known as
"Larry the Cable Guy" spit out a Limburger
sandwich at Baumgartner's while filming for the History
Channel, declaring with a string of colorful
expletives that it tasted like a dead possum.
here in Monroe people love it. They take enormous pride
in the fact that their town is the only place in the
country where Limburger is still produced. It's also the
only place to have its own master Limburger cheesemaker
Myron Olson, 60, who started working in the Chalet
Cheese Cooperative at age 17 and has managed the plant
for more than two decades.
takes time, but it grows on you," Olson says wryly,
of the pungent, ammonia-like stench wafting through the
plant, where huge vats of steaming curds eventually
become blocks of Limburger. Employees then rub the fresh
blocks by hand on aged pine boards coated in the prized
100-year-old bacteria that is recycled daily to ensure
the flavor stays true. Visitors can't tour the plant but
there is a small store.
washed-rind cheese, made from cow's milk, was first
concocted by 19th century monks in the Duchy of Limburg,
an area now divided among Belgium, Germany and the
Netherlands. Later in New York, Limburger sandwiches
became a favorite working man's lunch, cheap and
nutritious and usually washed down with a glass of beer.
Prohibition hurt sales of the smelly cheese as much as
sales of beer and production of Limburger dwindled. The
Monroe cooperative now makes about 700,000 pounds
(317,514 kilograms) a year.
the master cheesemaker, introduces a visitor to the
cheese gently. He offers a small piece of week-old
Limburger on a cracker with strawberry jam. It's mild
and crumbly, the texture of feta. At two months, it's
rich and creamy, resembling brie. At six months, after
fermentation has kicked in, it assaults the senses with
an odor so overpowering that to compare it to smelly
feet seems too kind. (In 2006 a study showing that the
malaria mosquito is attracted equally to the smell of
Limburger and to the smell of human feet won a prize
called the Ig Nobel, a parody of the Nobel prize,
awarded for humor as much as science.)
praise Limburger's earthy muskiness and creamy texture.
April 19, 2013 photo shows master cheesemaker
Myron Olson posing for a photo at the Chalet
Cheese Cooperative in Monroe, Wis. The Cooperative
is the only place in the United States where the
famous "stinky cheese" is still
is a cheese lover's cheese," says Tony Zgraggen,
who sells 8-ounce (227 grams) blocks of the stuff for
$4.99 at the Alp and Dell, a wonderful artisanal cheese
store in Monroe next to the Emmi Roth Kase cheese plant,
which produces 38,000 pounds (17,236 kilograms) of
cheese Gruyere, baby Swiss, blue and havarti a
visitors can watch various stages of cheesemaking from a
viewing room above the factory floor (the plant doesn't
make Limburger, so it's easy on the nose). If they are
lucky, they might also be treated to a tour and
perhaps some yodeling from Zgraggen, who is as
passionate about his native Switzerland as he is about
is a living thing," he cries, caressing a
foil-wrapped block of Limburger. "It doesn't have a
soul, but other than that, it's alive."
too alive for many folks outside Monroe.
a mail carrier in Independence, Iowa, became so overcome
by the odor emanating from a package of Limburger
(prescribed by a doctor for a patient with dyspepsia)
that the local postmaster banned it from being
delivered. That so infuriated the postmaster from Monroe
that he challenged his counterpart to a "sniffing
duel" in Dubuque one vigilantly covered by the
newspapers of the day. "Limburger: Fragrant in
Monroe; Putrid in Iowa" ran a headline in the March
6, 1935, issue of the Milwaukee Journal. A week later a
column in the Independence Conservative poked fun at the
good people of Monroe "who think that the world is
just a glib, flat Limburger cheese surrounded by an
ocean of lager beer... Bankers line their pockets with
it, strong men swear by it and babies smell like
"Duel of Dubuque" was settled amicably when
the Independence postmaster admitted that he didn't
possess a sense of smell.
Limburger continued to be maligned in movie, comic strip
and song. It has featured in comedy sketches by the
Three Stooges, Daffy Duck and Abbott and Costello
all involving characters collapsing whenever they came
into contact with the Limburger fumes.
Baumgartner's Tavern, where Limburger sandwiches are
served with a mint on top (for others at the table,
staff say), some newcomers still nearly collapse when
they get their first whiff. On a recent Saturday, Eric
Englund, a 30-year-old traffic maintenance worker from
Dixon, Ill., ordered the house specialty, boasting that
his stomach could handle anything. Tactfully, the waiter
brought a tiny sample on a toothpick with lots of
mustard and a batch of mints. And still Englund
grimaced, clutching his stomach and pretending to throw
up as he howled, "It tastes like catfish
it smells like your rotten black socks," said his
bar, Bob Sadterlee, a 70-year-old welding equipment
salesman from Rockford, Ill., nodded philosophically
about such reactions, which are fairly common in
is like a martini," said Sadterlee, who loves the
stinky cheese but treats himself only when he's not
meeting with clients.
takes time to acquire the taste."
WIS.: Located about 46 miles (74 kilometers) from
Madison, 109 miles (175 kilometers) from Milwaukee.
CHEESE COOPERATIVE: N4858 County Highway N, Monroe. Does
not offer tours, but there is a small store where cheese
can be purchased.
DELL CHEESE STORE: 657 Second St., Monroe, http://www.alpanddellcheese.com
or 608-328-3355. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays,
9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Short tours with
a look at the adjacent Emmi Roth Kase cheese plant are
free on a walk-in basis.
CHEESE STORE AND TAVERN: 1023 16th Ave., Monroe, https://baumgartnercheese.com
HISTORIC CHEESEMAKING CENTER AND MUSEUM: 2108 Sixth
Ave., Monroe. http://www.nationalhistoriccheesemakingcenter.org/
or 608-325-4636. Adults, $5; under age 16, free when
accompanied by adult. April 1-Oct. 31, Monday-Saturday,
9 a.m.-4 p.m., Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.