Limburger: The Cheese That Nose No Equal

limburger cheese

Notorious for its smell, Limburger’s bark is actually a lot worse than its bite. When you know how to eat it, Limburger cheese is remarkably smooth.

“Limburger—Don’t Eat It with Your Nose.” So reads the sign above the bar at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern in Monroe, Wisconsin: the only city in America where Limburger cheese is still made.

Limburger has been the butt of jokes for nearly a century, though to be honest, it smells more like feet. Past celebrities from Mark Twain to Charlie Chaplin have used it as comedic fodder, and on a visit to Baumgartner’s, comedian Larry the Cable Guy spat out his sample, declaring that it tasted like a dead possum. But Andrew Zimmern, host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods,” loves the stuff.

Truth be told, there are far more challenging food products on the planet…like Iceland’s hákarl or China’s “century egg.” Even in the cheese world, Limburger pales in comparison to pillars of pungency like Époisses or Stinking Bishop…but the more famous Limburger’s reputation lives on.

limburger cheese

History of Limburger: Who Came Up With This Stuff?

As European food products go, Limburger hasn’t been around all that long. It was first made in the 19th century by Trappist monks near Liège in the Duchy of Limburg (a territory now divided between Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany). Before you joke about the stinky cheese helping the monks maintain their cloistered lifestyle, bear in mind that the Trappists are also known for making some of the very finest beers in the world. Today, most of the Limburger in Europe is made in Germany.

Limburger was first made in the U.S. in 1867 by Swiss immigrants in Green County, Wisconsin. In this epicenter of Swiss cheesemaking, Limburger even outpaced Swiss in annual production by the 1920s in order to supply the German-speaking populations of places like New York and Cincinnati, where a Limburger sandwich was a favorite workingman’s lunch: cheap and typically washed down with a glass of beer. Apparently it was nearly unthinkable to eat Limburger without the accompanying brew, because Prohibition so hurt American sales of Limburger that production either ceased or sharply curtailed in most American cheese factories.

Farm to Table in Monroe

Today the only American producer of Limburger is Chalet Cheese Cooperative of Monroe, Wisconsin: the seat of Green County. Of the dozens of Master Cheesemakers in Wisconsin, only Chalet’s Myron Olson is certified to make Limburger.

Founded in 1885 by five dairy farmers, Chalet Cheese Cooperative today is owned and operated by 21 member farms. Olson, who started working there at age 17, has managed the plant for more than 20 years. Because he uses only milk from the Cooperative’s member farms (comprising 70% Holstein and 30% Brown Swiss cows), he knows exactly where the milk is coming from and the qualities it will contribute to the final product. He also believes the limestone-filtered water of south-central Wisconsin helps make the best-quality cheese to be found anywhere in the world.

Olson doesn’t just make Limburger, either; certified in other styles, he has won numerous state and national awards for Swiss, Baby Swiss and smoked versions of both. He also makes the very mellow Brick cheese as well as an award-winning German-Style Brick: a close cousin to Limburger, with the same bacterial smear used for ripening it.

Wait…did you say bacteria?

A Smeared Reputation: How Is Limburger Cheese Made?

Limburger is one of a number of smear-ripened, washed-rind cheeses. Washed-rind cheeses are cured in a saltwater brine which may or may not include things like beer, wine, and spirits. Periodically washing the cheese with this solution keeps the surface moist and hospitable to bacteria like Brevibacterium linens, which happens to be the very same bacterium responsible for human body odor—specifically foot odor. So if someone tells you Limburger smells like sweaty gym socks, they are technically correct.

Of course, the food world is full of examples of beneficial bacteria. Microorganisms like Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus give yogurt its distinctive tang and break down lactose to make it easier to digest. In the case of Limburger, a healthy smear of B. linens helps the maturing process and prevents the growth of undesirable molds. Other smear-ripened cheeses include the French Port Salut and Munster (not the mild, red-rind Muenster we’re familiar with, but a much funkier variety). The bacterial culture used at Chalet was first cultivated in 1911.

Limburger as we know it was nearly eradicated in the U.S., ironically by the company that built the Chalet plant and was founded by the man who “cleaned up” cheese in America.

J.L. Kraft invented processed cheese through a patented pasteurization process, which allowed his cheese to be shipped long distances. Kraft’s Mohawk Valley Limburger Spread was a nationwide hit, and in 1947 his company built what they considered the most cutting-edge Limburger plant in the world (which Chalet now uses). In the name of progress and sanitation the Kraft folks replaced the plant’s old pine curing boards with new ones. The cheese failed. Luckily, they had saved the old boards—which have been in use ever since—and the century-old colony of B. linens continues to work its bacterial magic.

The Three Stages of Limburger: What Does Limburger Cheese Taste Like?

“That old bac(terial) magic” takes awhile, and despite the overwhelming aroma encountered at Chalet during the cheesemaking process, fresh Limburger is not all that intimidating. In fact, it’s even downright mild in its infancy, and only develops its nasty temperament over time…with a little help from temperature. Limburger is dated to expire in six months; using the “Best if used by” date on the package as your guide, you can age your own Limburger in the fridge at home to suit your personal taste. We can break down the metamorphosis of Limburger into three stages:

Stage 1 (Beginner): If you like things on the mild side, eat it fresh out of the fridge, and as soon as possible after you buy it. When the cheese is only a few weeks old, it’s mild and crumbly—a bit like feta—with a bit of a yeasty smell. Like all washed-rind cheeses, Limburger ripens from the outside in…and since the rind contains most of the funk, cut it off before serving.

Stage 2 (Intermediate): Two to three months before expiration, Limburger is rich and creamy, and just starting to stink…like Brie with an attitude. Let it come to room temperature before serving for maximum flavor. The rind is edible, but does add strength. You can wash it and dry it if you wish to remove some of the odor.

Stage 3 (Hardcore): At four or more months, you’ve got weapons-grade Limburger—soft, almost runny, and in full-on sweaty sock mode. Remember that six-month expiration date? Diehards see that as a starting point, and even take it out of the fridge periodically to speed up the process. Just remember: it smells far worse than it tastes. Even at this stage, the flavor is not as sharp as aged Cheddar or as pungent as blue cheese. It’s very robust and rich. As they say at Baumgartner’s, “don’t eat it with your nose”; just pop it in your mouth and enjoy.

Limburger Recipes and Serving Tips

Because its unique aroma tends to overpower most foods, Limburger is not really considered a “recipe” cheese…although the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and a cult of fans will beg to differ.

The classic way to serve Limburger is on rye bread with sliced red onion and brown horseradish mustard or sweet-hot mustard. A lot of folks love it with strawberry jam, either as the sole condiment (especially at Stage 2) or in addition to mustard.

Baumgartner’s serves the full-strength Limburger on their famous sandwich (as above, no jam), or for true believers they’ll add a couple of thick slabs of locally made braunschweiger (liver sausage). And they always serve it with a breath mint, though that’s somewhat like the proverbial Band-Aid on a bullet wound.

Limburger Pairings

Unless you have pretty adventurous friends, you’re probably not serving Limburger at a wine tasting party. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but Limburger is a workingman’s cheese; it goes best with beer, preferably bock (a hearty, often dark, variety). At Baumgartner’s, locals get the full Monroe terroir by enjoying Limburger with Huber Bock from the Minhas Brewery right down the street. A porter or stout would certainly do the trick, too—think dark and flavorful.

The bottom line is: if you’re a real cheese lover or someone who craves a little harmless adventure, you owe it to yourself to put Limburger on your foodie bucket list. Pick it up at WisconsinCheeseman.com.

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37 Responses to Limburger: The Cheese That Nose No Equal

  1. Linda Walker February 10, 2017 at 6:25 pm #

    My late mother would always have Limburger for lunch when my maternal grandmother was visiting from St. Louis. My dad, who usually came home for lunch, would always manage to eat out on that day.

  2. Bob Tucker March 5, 2017 at 8:20 pm #

    My grandfather loved a Limburger and onion sandwich with beer. He was a blue collar working man. My grandmother could not stand the Limburger smell, and stayed out of the kitchen when he was making himself a sandwich. I got the habit of eating it from him, but had to stop after I got married. My wife is not as tolerant as my grandmother! 🙂

  3. Tom Jones March 8, 2017 at 8:16 pm #

    Mmmmm. Limburger!
    Our local salvage grocery often gets in Limburger at the expiration date – smelly and creamy, perfect for rye crackers, onions, and dark beer. Cheap, too! Lovely!

    Try it lightly toasted on quality bread for a real treat.

  4. John Voelker March 14, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

    I am eating some right now! Brought it from Wisconsin to my home in Montana and it waited awhile until properly aged. Raised in northern Wisconsin on a dairy, my Dad loved the stuff and I first got it past my nose after I started college. Saw some in a cheese store and brought it home for him. Dad ate it on crackers with onion or horse radish. I like the horse radish version best. Very unique flavor and smooth as butter. Cheers!

    • Joan September 5, 2017 at 2:31 am #

      I always had Limburger cheese with my grandfather… I was only 6 years old. And I loved even as early as 6 years old…..LOL…. but now I can have a nice cold beer.

  5. Donna Schraeder March 16, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

    Limburger cheese reminds me of my Dad and how he would bring it over to my Mom’s family for lunches. They told me when I was little I went into the other room because of the smell of the stinky feet cheese. When I was older I got past the smell and enjoyed it with everyone else! I’m getting hungry for it now.

  6. Robin Price April 14, 2017 at 8:34 pm #

    My Dad adored Limburger cheese. In 1944 we lived in Seattle (he was stationed there during the war) and one day he came home with some Limburger. My mother nearly died and made him keep it out on our back porch during the winter. He had to eat it out there too. Now, 73 years later, I figure it is about time I try it. Here’s to you Dad!

    • Joe Schneid February 2, 2018 at 12:12 pm #

      The early 1950’s…….
      I remember my dad’s Limburger stayed on the back porch in a Pyrex refrigerator dish. Google “Vintage Pyrex refrigerator dish”. I still have one of those old dishes.

  7. Mike Enis May 7, 2017 at 6:41 pm #

    My Dad loved Limburger, Onion and Sardine sandwiches with Brown Mustard on Pumpernickel. My Mom made him take all the fixin’s out to the picknick table in the back yard to make and eat them. She allowed him to keep the Limburger in the fridge as long as it was in a TIGHTLY sealed jar! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more blissful look on anyone’s face than on his when he was eating one of those “weapons grade” sandwiches!

  8. Barbara Kimmitt May 22, 2017 at 12:49 pm #

    I absolutely love the stuff! Hubby, on the other hand gets nauseated when I prepare it. Made some yesterday and he asked if he could open the front door to air out the house. LOL! I guess a man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do!!! I have introduced 2 of my grandchildren (ages 4 and 8) to it and they can’t get enough! To make it a bit milder, I cut the block into about 10 or so slices. On those slices I place about a half stick of butter which has also been sliced into pats. Let this all come to room temperature or pop it in the microwave for about 40 seconds. Now use a fork to mash it all together and mix it up. Finally, I add about half of a small onion, finely diced and mix it all together. It is great on crackers, celery, carrots even just off the fork!

    It is such a shame that we influence or children negatively by saying things aren’t good. Wer have a rule in our house that you must taste things before you say you don’t like them. My granddaughter once told me she didn’t like mushrooms because her dad said they were slimey. I made them for her (not slimey) and now she loves them too.

  9. Allan G Benjamin Sr June 4, 2017 at 3:18 am #

    Limburger and blind robins (dried smoked herring) with rye crackers and a good stout.

  10. John miller June 10, 2017 at 6:50 am #

    When I has a kid we would get together at my grandmas house every time she made fresh buns. There would always be both my grandmas a couple of the aunts my mother and a huge bunch of kids. We would just smear The Limburger on the still warm buns and enjoy to the point of overeating. And for those that couldn’t get past the smell there was always peanut butter and homemade jelly

  11. Dale June 19, 2017 at 2:33 am #

    Grew up in Wisconsin and moved to Alberta Canada. Every time I get back to Wisconsin I fill a cooler with Wisconsin Limburger.
    Oddly my husband doesn’t share my enthusiasm for it.

  12. Phil June 29, 2017 at 4:12 am #

    I’ve never had Limburger but was looking at a tightly wrapped small brick of the stuff at the local Hy-Vee and thought about buying it but didn’t – mostly because it was kind of pricy, but after reading this article the next time I go there I’m getting some.

    My family is already repulsed by my affection for Durian, an fruit with an equally odd aroma that some fine utterly repellent, so why not add some Limburger to my arsenal?

  13. Yukie Andrada July 31, 2017 at 2:48 am #

    We had two “bricks ” in the fridge and completely forgot about them. About a year later we thought about them. By now they’re pretty solid – almost like a Gouda or Cheddar in texture. We debated a bit but tasted one. It was wonderful. So we melted some on top of bread and pigged out.

  14. Sherry August 12, 2017 at 3:45 pm #

    I love it on toasted rye with a thick layer of good butter and then a thick layer of Limburger on top of the butter. I microwave it a few seconds…just until the cheese gets a little melt in it. Oh my gosh! It’s delicious!

  15. Mike Walsh August 31, 2017 at 11:58 pm #

    A 100 old resident of my mother’s community has been organizing Limburger cheese parties for years – outside on the patio! $6 gets you a Limburger sandwich. You can put your own onions and mustard on.

    I asked if they had any Limburger cheese events or games. No, just stories about the good d days!

  16. Linda Merrell October 4, 2017 at 3:53 am #

    Learned to eat this with my dad from the age of three. Now at sixty eight I still love the stuff. Have to send to Wisconsin for it though cause I can’t find it in any store in Washington.

    • Ashley W. January 21, 2018 at 12:16 am #

      I don’t know what stores you have around you, but I also live in Washington and have seen it at Safeway (in the deli section with all the rest of the cheeses). As of writing this I’m going to try some for the first time tomorrow, really excited to try it since I’m a big fan of cheeses in general!

  17. Adelbert Potter October 8, 2017 at 3:36 am #

    Introduced to limburger by my father many years ago. He never could afford a lot of it, so it was special. I found some here locally (Made in America) and bought it regularly until the store quit selling it. They refered me to another store, and I bought it until they stopped selling it. Now all IO canfind is imported baverian limburger — and it’s not the same. It doesn’t ripen to a thion paste like the US versiopn does (did) I set it out, or on the refrigerator, to properly ripen. (I’m one who feels the six month mark is just starting toget good.) Have it on black rye with horseraddish sayce for breakfast every morning.)(

  18. Donna Navarre October 30, 2017 at 8:07 pm #

    About 60 years ago my now 91 year old sister used to work at a restaurant in Michigan that served “Stinky cheese” burgers. Every one LOVED them and still talk about them to this day.
    She tells me that they were made with a cheese that was limburger and she thinks cheddar together. And with a nice perfectly sliced onion on it. Does anyone know if there is still a cheese made that is a combination of limburger and cheddar? Something that can be sliced to put on a burger?

    • severson October 30, 2017 at 8:22 pm #

      We’re not aware of a Limburger-Cheddar blend out there, but we wouldn’t mind seeing a burger with a slice of each. The more, the merrier!

  19. Jim obrock November 7, 2017 at 9:06 pm #

    How about liederkranz, difficult to get.

  20. Arian January 5, 2018 at 6:29 am #

    I love limburger cheese. As a young child I would look forward to our Sunday cheese sessions.
    It is hard to find here in Hawaii. But when I do I come home a happy girl!

  21. Peter Morgan January 14, 2018 at 11:23 am #

    Years ago, before people had refrigerators, all cheeses (and yogurt etc.) were kept at room temperature or in cool cellars. Cheeses were invented to preserve the food value of milk until the winter. In a store the cheeses hung from the ceiling. Only molds will effect the outside and these can be cut off, or sometimes eaten as well.

    I suppose it is modern additives that mandate the cheese be refrigerated.

    • severson January 15, 2018 at 2:30 pm #

      It’s actually not “modern additives” at all. Our cheeses, for example, have no additives. It’s simply to preserve freshness and stop microbial growth that we recommend refrigeration.

  22. Audre February 1, 2018 at 4:24 pm #

    LOL! My mom loved Limburger cheese – the rest of the family hated it (solely based on the smell). We complained so much that the house stank so badly when she ate it, honest truth…she put it in a sandwich baggy and hung it out on the clothes line!

  23. Dean Chandler February 3, 2018 at 7:26 am #

    Is “dance this mess around” by the B-52’s the only record ever made with limburger in the lyrics? “Why don’t you dance with me? I’m not no limburger!”

    • severson February 5, 2018 at 2:33 pm #

      I was a college radio DJ in the ’80s, and you don’t know how happy this post made me. 🙂

      • Dean Chandler February 7, 2018 at 5:46 am #

        Yes its just a great song, listened to it recently for the first time in many years and to be honest i never knew what a limburger was! Hence a quick google search led me here and now those lyrics make a bit more sense!

      • Keithnyc May 13, 2018 at 9:23 pm #

        You’re not going to believe this, but im listening to the B52’s right now…. Love that song. My roommate was a DJ at Rutgers College in the 80’s LOL

  24. leon maierhafer April 17, 2018 at 4:08 pm #

    Being a limburger lover from way back I introduced it to my shipmates at our annual convention. It started in St Louis,it’s been to Las Vegas where we were run out of the pool area of the Golden Nugget,on to Pensecola ,fla . Only place we could go was on 13th floor of the hotel. Been poolside in Charleston, s carolina. The best was in Rhode Island,those people have no sense of humor. We started making sandwiches in the hospitality room. What I didn’t know was there was a fancy wedding going on other side of the wall,and down the hall another fancier wedding. Suddenly the hotel manager came in with a warning if we didn’t stop he was going to kick us out. They came with spray bombs and set up 4 foot ventilating fans to air out. We were told not to come back again. We have learned to set up outside now at our convention and even have a special nite for our limburger festival. This year we will be in Baton Rouge,LA. I’m know as the limburger now lol

    • Jeff April 17, 2018 at 4:22 pm #

      That is amazing…and really funny! Thank you for your service, and thanks for making our day. Cheers!

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