Limburger is a cheese that originated in the historical Duchy of Limburg, which is now divided between modern-day Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. Limburger is especially known for its pungent odor. The bacterium used to ferment Limburger cheese and other rind-washed cheeses is Brevibacterium linens; this same bacterium is found on human skin and is partially responsible for human body odor.
Herve cheese is a particular kind of Limburger produced in the Land of Herve.
Limburger and its characteristic odor are a frequent butt of jokes and gags. In 2006 a study showing that the malaria mosquito (Anopheles gambiae) is attracted equally to the smell of Limburger and to the smell of human feet earned the Ig Nobel Prize in the area of biology. This cheese has now been placed in strategic locations in Africa to combat the epidemic of malaria due to mosquitoes.
Despite its birth location, most of the Limburger made today comes from Germany, and has since about the nineteenth century. It was first produced by Rudolph Benkerts in 1867 in his cellar from pasteurized goat’s milk. A few years later, there were about 25 factories that produced this cheese. The Chalet Cheese Cooperative, located in Monroe, Wisconsin, is the one company which makes this cheese in North America.
Limburger is most-well known for its very pungent odor which is caused by bacteria that live in the rind. It has often been described as having the same odor as smelly feet. In its first month, the cheese is more firm and crumbly, similar to the texture of feta cheese. After about six weeks, the cheese becomes softer along the edges but is still firm on the inside and can be described as salty and chalky. After two months of its life, it is mostly creamy and much smoother. Once it reaches three months, the cheese produces its notorious odor.
One of the most traditional forms of eating limburger is the limburger sandwich. After three months, when the cheese has ripened, it becomes spreadable. The cheese is spread thickly (> 0.5 cm.) on firm textured 100% rye bread, with a large, thick slice of onion, and is typically served with strong black coffee or lager beer. Alternatively, for heartier eaters, chunks or slices of the cheese up to 1.5 cm. thick can be cut off the block and placed in the sandwich. This sandwich still remains very popular among the descendants of German immigrants residing in the midwest part of America, such as in Cincinnati, or German Village in Columbus, Ohio. However, it is markedly less popular among the descendants born after ca. 1960, mainly because of the permeating smell, and the inconvenience of going to specialty cheese and sausage shops to obtain it. In Wisconsin, you can find the Limburger sandwich on menus at certain restaurants, accompanied with brown mustard.
100 grams of Limburger contains about 327 calories and has 27 grams of fat, which is about 42 percent of the daily value of a person eating on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Although it does provide calcium, protein and Vitamin A, it also makes up for 30 percent of the daily value of cholesterol and 33 percent of the daily value of sodium. This assumes eating 3.5 servings of the cheese.
Due to its distinctive odor, unpleasant to many people, Limburger has achieved symbolic significance in popular culture. For example, it is the only known weakness of Mighty Mouse, and in The Beverly Hillbillies, the Clampetts reserve their wall safe for storing Limburger; a detail that is used for comic effect in several episodes. Harry Langdon, on a bus ride in the silent movie The Strong Man, uses it (by mistake) as an ointment. The other passengers throw him off. The B-52's also reference the cheese in their song "Dance this Mess Around" with the line, "Why don't you dance with me? I'm not no Limburger!" The cheese has also been featured in multiple Abbott and Costello routines, such as in Who Done It? in which Lou has to serve a customer a Limburger sandwich; he uses a clothespin and gas mask to avoid the smell. It is mentioned in the Three Stooges short "Horse's Collars", famous for the tag line "Moe, Larry... the cheese!" After Curly eats a piece, exhales in proximity of the protagonists, who faint, ending the episode. In Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, the duo crash lands in New Orleans with a hijacked spaceship during Mardi Gras. Due to all the strange costumes, they think they have landed on Mars. When Abbott tells Lou to take his helmet off in a restaurant to see if the air is breathable, Lou smells the limburger at the table next to him, immediately puts his helmet back on, and says "no". In the Mark Twain play Is He Dead?, one character puts Limburger in a casket in order to replicate the smell of a rotting corpse.
Limburger is also a favorite of Jughead, from Archies comics.