Young and Ripe

"Limburger cheese," says Myron Olson philosophically, "you either love it or you hate it." Olson, who's heard every stinkin' Limburger joke ever told, ought to know: He manages Chalet Cheese, a dairy co-op owned by 35 farm families that produces 12,000 pounds of cheese a day and is the only maker of Limburger cheese left in America.

Hardly anyone bothers with Limburger anymore, says Olson, but not for the reason you might think. It's just that there is so much work involved in making it. Every batch is made up of a number of small pieces of cheese, each of which goes through several processes.

The Chalet Cheese Co-op, which has been making cheese by hand for more than a century, produces an array of respectable varieties--Limburger, Swiss, Cheddar, Brick--but our favorite is the pungent Smear (pronounced shmeer ; $1.85 per pound), a block of Brick cheese coated with Limburger. The cheese, an American original, got its name, Olson says, because of its sticky surface. The stickiness is the result of a quickly growing bacteria on the Limburger (the same one that gives the cheese its pungent flavor).

Unlike Cheddar and Swiss, the tangy, odoriferous Smear does not improve with age. Its shelf life is about six months. "A lot of people get a little queasy from the smell of it," says Olson. "But once you get it past your nose, the flavor is surprising."

Be brave. You won't be sorry.

Chalet Cheese ships year around via UPS. The minimum order is 12 pounds.

Chalet Cheese Co-Op N4858 Highway N Monroe, Wis. 53566 (608) 325-4343 Billed after delivery

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