Weisslacker cheese -- 'Bavaria's secret weapon'

The only cheese in history that has ever had a monument erected to it also has the distinction of being the world's smelliest, albeit one of the most tasty to eat. Alongside Germany's Weisslacker cheese, a pound of well-ripened Limburger seems odorless by comparison. Phew and whew!

fortunately or unfortunately, the Weisslacker cheese doesn't get around very much, and hardly any of it is ever exported. But if your're a cheese lover and happen to be doing the tourist-bit in the Bavarian mountains, then hie yourself one morning to the home of this eccentric dairy product. Wertach is a picture-book town of 1,600 residents painted 3,000 feet high on the side of the Allgau Alps, two-hour drive southwest of Munich.

So what then does this cheese smell like?

That's pretty hard to put in words, but if you can imagine a combination of sewer stench multiplied a hundred times by the stink of a glue factory, maybe you'll get the general idea. Because, however, the taste is so extraordinarily good, some devotees actually have been known to put a clothespin to their noses while eating it.

The first Weisslacker cheese was developed in 1875 here in Wertach quite by accident -- and the "hero" of the story is one Josef Kramer, a farmer and dairyman who, with his kid brother Anton, liked to experiment with cheese cultures to make them more durable so they could travel well. One winter day he was fooling around with a batch of Limburger cheese by raising the salt and fat content by about 45 percent on the hunch that it would ship better.

It turned out to be too watery and too salty, and since nobody would taste it , much less buy it, he shunted it into a dark room, where it remained forgotten for six months. During that period the concoction turned into a white lacquer with an ivory sheen, and when a young wholesale buyer, new to the business, came to Wertach to procure cheeses for a German market, Kramer offered the forgotten preparation at a cutrate price.

As such things go, the Kramer brothers had never bothered to taste what they had gotten rid of -- but the innocent buyer was back within a few weeks with a rave report and a big order for more. Aware they had stumbled onto a good thing , the Kramers took out a royal patent on the cheese --thereby making Weisslacker the first cheese ever to be patented anywhere. The ultra-smelly dairy item went on to win a gold medal at a Berlin agriculture exhibition.

Wertach has made the home of Josef and Anton Kramer into a national monument for Weisslacker, with appropriate plaques and portraits on the sides of the building. The monument reminds every visitor that Wertach owes its sweet smell of success to cheese -- and that's all a matter of dollars and scents.

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