Vieux Boulogne, a soft, yet firm French cheese made from cow's milk and matured by washing with beer, tops a list of the smelliest cheeses reveals scientists today. The artisan-made cheese was tested for its smell along with other known pungent cheeses by Cranfield University on behalf of Fine Cheeses from France.

"Love it or loathe it, the sign of a fine cheese is often its characteristic smell as well as its flavour and texture and we wanted to find out if France's reputation for producing smelly cheeses was true," said Sally Clarke from Fine Cheeses from France.

Dr Stephen White, senior research officer Cranfield University led the study by using an electronic nose as well as a human olfactory panel to sniff out those with the strongest scent.

Fifteen cheeses were selected with the help of cheese experts in France and the UK and put through the smelly stakes. Dr Stephen White said: "The results suggest that electronic nose technology could be a useful tool for cheese characterisation, quality control and authenticity testing in the future. The smelliest cheeses were washed rind cheeses. There was no obvious correlation between the age of the selected cheeses and smelliness, nor type of milk origin, although cows' milk cheeses did dominate the smell chart."

Cheeses whose rinds are washed (in a salt water solution, beer or brandy) were rated smelliest. Tops was Vieux Boulogne followed by Pont l'Eveque - both washed rind cheeses, produced from the milk of cows raised on the lush, coastal pastures of Normandy.

Camembert de Normandie, the most widely imitated cheese in the world, was rated third. It has a natural rind and is best known for its creamy texture and mushroomy aroma. Hard cheeses were found to be least smelly of all. Goat's cheese, English Farmhouse Cheddar, Ossau Iraty, Raclette and Parmesan took the bottom five places in the smell league.

Pungent smelling cheeses are becoming more popular in the UK - Epoisses de Bourgogne (probably the most pungent smelling cheese that is widely available here) is now sold in Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose, but in this study it was found to be less pungent than other speciality rind washed cheeses such as Livarot.

The World's Smelliest Cheeses

In order - Most smelly first

-- Vieux Boulogne - Cow's milk cheese from Boulogne sur Mer, Pas de Calais, aged 7-9 weeks, rind is washed with beer

-- Pont l'Eveque AOC - Cow's milk cheese from Normandy, aged 6 weeks, rind is washed with brine

-- Camembert de Normandie AOC - Cow's milk cheese from Normandy, min age 21 days, soft, bloomy rind

-- Munster - Cow's milk cheese from Alsace Lorraine, N E France, aged 3 weeks, rind is washed with brine

-- Brie de Meaux AOC - Cow's milk cheese from Ile de France, outside Paris, aged 4-8 weeks, soft, bloomy rind

-- Roquefort AOC - Sheep's milk cheese from Roquefort, near Toulouse, aged 3 months, blue mould cheese

-- Reblochon AOC - Cow's milk cheese from Savoie region in France, aged 3-4 weeks

-- Livarot AOC - Cow's milk cheese from Normandy, aged 90 days, rind is washed with brine

-- Banon AOC - Goat's milk cheese from Provence region, aged 1-2 weeks and wrapped in chestnut leaves

-- Epoisses de Bourgogne AOC - Cow's milk cheese from Burgundy, aged 4-6 weeks, rind is washed with brandy (Marc de Bourgogne)

-- Parmesan - Cow's milk cheese from Italy, aged 2 years

-- Raclette - Cow's milk cheese from French Alps, aged 2 months

-- Ossau Iraty AOC - Sheep's milk cheese from Basque region in S France, aged 3 months

-- Cheddar - Cow's milk cheese made across the UK, aged 6-24 months

Least Smelly Cheese

-- Crottin de Chavignol AOC - Goat's milk cheese from Chavignol near to Sancerre in the Centre region of France, aged for minimum of 10 up to 6 months. The test sample was aged 4-6 weeks old.

Patricia Michelson, owner of La Fromagerie cheese shops in London said: "The group of washed rind cheeses, originating in northern France have a reputation for their strong smell which results from the milk enzymes reacting to the brine or alcoholic solution which is brushed onto their surface during the cheese making process.

"Vieux Boulogne is a young, modern cheese with a surprisingly mellow and gentle taste that's perfect served with some crusty bread and a beer. It's a great cheese to try, as it doesn't have the earthy, farmyardy flavours that some people find overpowering."

Sally Clarke said: "France has a huge selection of weird and wonderful whiffy cheeses and their smell often disguises a delicate, subtle flavour that has to be tried to be believed. So, we're encouraging British shoppers to be a little more daring with their Christmas cheeseboard by choosing one of the cheeses from our smell study."

Contact: Dr Stephen White
Cranfield University