What is "stinky cheese"?
January 22, 2013 12:55 PM   Subscribe

Help me find the name of this hard, pungent Italian cheese.

Growing up, my grandmother always had a container of grated cheese to put on pasta and soups. It was powdery and off-white like store-bought parmesan but she got it at the Italian grocery store. In fact, it's the very first smell that hits you in almost any Italian deli. No one in my family can seem to remember what kind of cheese it was because we all just called it "stinky cheese". The only way that I can really describe the smell is "vaguely puke-like but in a good way", which I know sounds insane.

It was definitely not any kind of parmesan or parmesan romano. In Italy I tasted it in a few dishes and it was pecorino, but I haven't been able to find any pecorino in Los Angeles that has even approached the proper level of stink. Is there a particular type of pecorino I should be looking at? Does it have to be imported? Might it have been something else entirely?

My amatriciana is riding on this.
posted by Thin Lizzy to Food & Drink (20 answers total)
Best answer: Pecorinos definitely vary in pungent-ness. Locatelli is pretty reliably tangy and sheepy/pungent.
posted by sockpuppet yo at 1:01 PM on January 22, 2013

Would it possibly be Pecorino Romano? A good brand that we often use is Locatelli. I don't know if that has already been tried (you mention Parmesan Romano, and I do not know enough about cheese to know if that is different).

I do not know if it has quite the smell you are looking for, though.
posted by kellygrape at 1:01 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Doesn't sound insane at all to me! My Italian family had stinky cheese too. Theirs was Locatelli.
posted by gladly at 1:05 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've never found pecorino that sounds "vaguely puke-like," but it certainly is distinctive - really, really salty-sharp, makes the inside of my mouth itch, and when grated has a really robust flavor.

Grocery store cheese won't cut it. Look for an italian grocery. Imported cheese is your best bet.
posted by entropone at 1:06 PM on January 22, 2013

Grana Padano, maybe?
posted by trip and a half at 1:09 PM on January 22, 2013

I'm thinking pecorino romano or caprino romano.
posted by cooker girl at 1:12 PM on January 22, 2013

My first thought was pecorino romano - but I think the sheep's milk is providing the stink factor, so you might try some other hard, aged, sheeps milk cheeses to see if they get close to what you want. A good cheese shop or cheese counter will let you try a few. In bocca al lupo!
posted by hungrybruno at 1:18 PM on January 22, 2013

Best answer: Pecorino sardo (my favorite) tends to be more pungent and flavorful than romano (one of the few cheeses I actively dislike), so that's a possibility.

When I think "really stinky Italian cheese" my first thought is fontina, but it's not the sort of thing you can grate (although it is lovely in soups and pizzoccheri and many other things).
posted by Superplin at 1:21 PM on January 22, 2013

My best guess would also be a variety of pecorino, but might it have been an asiago vecchio?
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:28 PM on January 22, 2013

Are you sure it wasn't parmesan? Parmesan-Reggiano comes ungrated, and it does have a vaguely "pukey" aroma. It's delicious, though.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:37 PM on January 22, 2013

Unlikely to be Grana Padano, which has a softer flavor than a strong parmigiano.
posted by entropone at 1:42 PM on January 22, 2013

I remember the deli MY family used to go to, in the '50s, and later I recognized the "vaguely pukey" smell as parmigiano (Parmesan). But we always bought the Pecorino Romano, as did most immigrants from southern Italy.
posted by mr vino at 1:56 PM on January 22, 2013

I think the first smell that hits me in an Italian deli is often provolone--not the Americanized deli version, but the stronger Italian one. I don't know if it would be dry enough to grate into a powder though. Is there an Italian grocery store or a good cheese shop near you that would let you taste a few cheeses to see if you can find the right one?
posted by pompelmo at 2:00 PM on January 22, 2013

Just had some Fontina for the first time; smells like puke n sweat
posted by bitteroldman at 2:23 PM on January 22, 2013

Are you sure it's Italian? I'm wondering if it was some kind of aged mizithra, which can sometimes be stinky.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:34 PM on January 22, 2013

Nthing a variety of Pecorino. Some are so sheepy they make you feel like you've got little sweaters on your teeth, and the aroma at room temperature is...distinctive. I wouldn't call it puke-like, but it's such a subjective thing it's hard to say.
posted by rtha at 2:50 PM on January 22, 2013

Sounds like block Romano cheese to me...very salty and leaves a stinky aftertaste. I usually can find it in triangle shaped pieces with the specialty cheeses at the grocery store. Different brands have different flavors so keep trying until you find the one you like. I usually get one that has black wax around it but the name escapes me; I already ate this week's supply.
posted by tamitang at 5:54 PM on January 22, 2013

Growing up in my sicilian household what we called stinky cheese was provolone....the good italian kind that really does smell like an old sock, not the deli counter americanized version. It's hard and slightly off white and very grateable.
posted by newpotato at 7:01 AM on January 23, 2013

Ha, just read pompelmos's comment-great minds, etc....
I think it's provolone.
posted by newpotato at 7:02 AM on January 23, 2013

Provalone, the only cheese that to me smells like vomit or feet...

But on a sandwich... heaven.
posted by Mesach at 6:59 AM on January 24, 2013

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