The Reason Epoisses Cheese Is Banned In The US

Cheese lovers no doubt know that France produces some of the world's best and most varied cheeses. But one distinctive variety that's among the country's most popular is actually barred by law from the United States.

It's called Epoisses, and it traces its roots as far back as the early 16th century. Cheesemaking monks in the south of France first developed this creamy, rich, powerfully odored soft cheese that can approach the texture of a scoopable paste.  It has soared back to popularity since the 1940s, but has one problematic characteristic that keeps it off American shelves: it's unpasteurized. 

Federal law prohibits the import of unpasteurized raw milk cheese that is less than 60 days old, a category that Epoisses falls into. Regulators are concerned the cheese could harbor harmful bacteria or pathogens, particularly listeria. According to the FDA, an estimated 260 Americans die each year from listeria, while 1,600 more are made seriously ill.

Funky, but not the funkiest

Fortunately for fromage fans, you don't need to travel all the way across the Atlantic to try Epoisses, or at least, a version of it. The FDA allows the sale of a pasteurized version of the cheese that experts say comes close to the real thing.

However, it's vital to know that neither the original nor the pasteurized version is for the faint of heart (or nose). It's rumored to have even been banned on French public transit to protect the nostrils of fellow riders. The word "funk" often comes up in descriptions, as do descriptions of ammonia, earthiness, wet straw, or fermented fruits. The latter scent (as well as the traditional orange rind) comes from a distinctive part of the cheesemaking process, where the cheese is washed with a fermented grape wine.

Apparently, it's still not the smelliest cheese in the world. That honor (if you can call it that) goes to Vieux Boulogne, a French cow's milk cheese washed in beer that won the title in 2004 and hasn't given it up since.

If you'd prefer to skip the ultra-stinky and not-quite-legal Epoisses, you can opt for some of these underrated cheeses instead.