Cheese’s salty, creamy, gooey goodness is made possible from the biological efforts of molds and bacteria. But what if those bacteria came not from a cow, goat, sheep or the broader environment, but were intentionally colonized from a human nose, toe or belly button?
At Dublin’s Science Gallery, artists and cheesemakers lovingly harvested human microbes and cultured them into several delicious-looking but mentally off-putting wheels of cheese. The cheeses are part of an exhibition called Selfmade, which celebrates the diversity of life found in and on our own bodies. Each of the eleven cheeses, collected with a sterile swab from various artists and scientists’ body parts, represents a unique microbial landscape, they say, including tears, a belly button, the inside of a man’s nose and a mouth.
Here, the artists explain their work’s methodology:
Isolated microbial strains were identified and characterised using microbiological techniques and 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing. Like the human body, each cheese has a unique set of microbes that metabolically shape a unique odour. Cheese odours were sampled and characterised using headspace gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis, a technique used to identify and/or quantify volatile organic compounds present in a sample.
The cheeses, apparently, were faithful to the body smells of their original donors. “It’s no surprise that sometimes cheese odors and body odors are similar,” artist Christina Agapakis explained to Dezeen maagzine. “But when we started working together we were surprised by how not only do cheese and smelly body parts like feet share similar odor molecules but also have similar microbial populations.”
The artists recently held a wine and cheese pairing event, in which visitors stuck their noses close to the human cheese and took a big whiff. They were not allowed, however, to actually sample those delicacies. But if visitors were given a chance to take a nibble, the odds that they would agree are questionable. As one viewer anonymously wrote in a review of the exhibit, the Atlantic reports, “The cheese one: I is so yuck and grose.”
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