Scientists make cheese from arm pit sweat and toe jam

Geekquinox

For those that really like a good stinky cheese, one that smells as much like feet as possible, an exhibit at the Dublin Science Gallery might be exactly what you're looking for, but for most of us, it'll probably just end up making us feel queezy.

Selfmade is an exhibit of different stinky cheeses that tries to show us how the bacteria that we live with every day aren't necessarily a bad thing. The 'pieces' in the exhibit start off the cheese-making process like any other, but when it comes time to add that special something to give them their unique bouquet and flavour, the cheese-makers go no further than their own bodies. Yes, that's right, the bacteria they use in these cheeses isn't your standard Lactobacillus, but instead it's swabbed from human armpits, belly-buttons, and even between the toes.

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Now, the scientists aren't just sticking the swab in some toe jam and then dipping it straight into the milk. That would be truly disgusting. They gather the microbes from the skin of the various areas of their bodies, isolate the specific ones that cause those 'wonderful' smells that we work so hard every day to mask or get rid, and use those in the cheese-making process.

"Many of the stinkiest cheeses are hosts to species of bacteria closely related to the bacteria responsible for the characteristic smells of human armpits or feet," 'artists' Christina Agapakis and Sissel Tolaas wrote on the Science Gallery website. "Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies?"

The scientists involved in the process, from both Harvard University and MIT, along with cheesemakers from the Bleating Heart Creamery talk about the whole process in this video:

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The exhibit draws a lot of attention, especially with the 'ick' factor involved, but it isn't done just for a lark. A big part of it is to expand our knowledge. We're definitely in a time when there's a wide belief that germs are wholly bad and that we should be sterilizing and cleansing everything to stay safe. However, with germs all around us and in us (and vastly outnumbering us), it would be better for us to know exactly how these microbes are benefiting us, and learning how they interact with us and with each other could produce even more benefits for us in the future.

(Photo courtesy: Dublin Science Gallery)

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