Food Experiment #1

 

I decided a while back that I’d broaden my horizons on the food I ate. I decided at least once a month I’d learn to make something new and try it. Then I’d try to make it my own. This isn’t really my first experiment but it’s definitely the bravest so far, and one I don’t think I’m going to attempt to improve on too much. Last month it was Gazpacho, which I’d tried before at a Jason’s Deli, this month it is something a bit braver than that.

This month it is a Limburger Sandwich. For those who aren’t aware it’s a kind of sandwich from Germany and Belgium. It consists of two pieces of rye bread, a thick layer of limburger cheese, and a thick slice of raw onion. Definitely braver than Gazpacho.

First off I’d like to say that I’d never even smelled limburger, much less tried it. I’d just seen on cartoons as a kid that it was terribly smelly, and probably not very good. It is the cheese jokes are made of. But I decided, what the heck, they’ve been eating the stuff in Europe forever so it probably wouldn’t kill me.

I also had some trepidation about an onion sandwich. That’s just not something I’d ever thought about eating, much less being palatable to someone who hadn’t grown up eating it. I do like onions, and again they eat it in Europe so it probably isn’t going to kill me.

Pictures and Comments

Here are some pictures of my ingredients. All this stuff is more or less local, except the cheese which was imported from Germany, and the mustard I believe is from Ohio.

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This is pumpernickel bread from United. Locally baked, and pretty good. I don’t think this is exactly the kind of rye bread that they use traditionally but a lot of people seemed to prefer it when I read up on this adventure. It’s also the only fresh baked rye bread I could find at United. It’s about $4 a loaf.

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This is what it looks like sliced. Pretty good stuff. I toasted it before eating. That was kind of a mistake, I’ll explain why later.

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I cut the onion about half an inch thick.

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Bayerischer Limburger. This is imported from Germany, made from pasteurized milk. I don’t know that they use pasteurized milk to make it normally. I think it’s illegal to sell products made from raw milk in the U.S. though, so it might not be terribly authentic. This was $7 at United. I researched Limburger online and developed a respect for the cheese. This was especially true after seeing how they package it. It was double wrapped in cellophane. Each wrap was about four to six layers deep. Underneath the cellophane was a foil wrapper, and beneath that was wax paper.

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Here is the cheese unpackaged. I was surprised at the smell actually. Because it’s been refrigerated, or maybe it’s made just a touch different for sale in the US, or maybe because I was determined not to let this stuff hit room temperature, the smell wasn’t overwhelming. The smell isn’t hard to describe. It smells like human body odor. I don’t mean it smells reminiscent of human body odor, or like it, or reminds me of body odor. I mean the smell coming off the cheese is that of human body odor. Like the high school boy’s locker room. Like feet. If you want to know exactly what this smells like, work out for an hour, don’t wear deodorant, then smell your armpits. That’s what Limburger cheese smells like. I assume if I let this get to room temperature it would have been stronger. In fact what got on my hands got pretty strong fairly quickly. The actually use this stuff in places with malaria carrying mosquitoes to draw them away because the bugs can’t actually tell the difference between the cheese and a person. The reason is they use Brevibacterium Linens to make it. That is exactly the same bacteria found on human skin and produces our distinctive body odor.

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This is what it looks like inside. I got some mixed information online. Some said the rind (the orange part) is inedible, others said it was perfectly fine to eat it. I didn’t particularly care to try it so I cut it off. The cheese is a little firmer than Brie, but not much. Definitely tastes nothing like Brie either. It’s got a fairly strong taste, but it doesn’t at all taste like it smells. It’s milder than I thought. I’d expected something a lot different. As it warmed up it got stronger. You’ll note the glass jar in the background. I had to wrap the cheese in cellophane and foil and put it in the jar to keep the smell down.

I read that in the US the onion sandwich is usually served with a strong brown mustard. I thought I’d try with and without. So I got some stone ground mustard, but decided to put it on with each bite rather than spread it over half the sandwich.

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All the ingredients together.

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I read that this is best eaten with something strong to drink. Most sites recommended a dark beer of some kind. Since I absolutely don’t drink, I decided to go the strong coffee route as some suggested. That’s Peet’s 2010 Anniversary Blend coffee made in a French Press.

My Thoughts

I thought the sandwich was surprisingly good. I wasn’t a big fan of there only being a big chunk of onion in it though. The onion was fairly sweet with a bit of a bite in the aftertaste. The cheese complimented it quite well. It was a bit bland though. Just wasn’t much to it. Definitely an acquired taste.

The half of the sandwich with the mustard was definitely better. The mustard brought out the flavor of the cheese a bit more and subdued the onion. It might have been that half of the sandwich had warmed up as well so the flavors were a bit stronger. Might have also been that half had a bit more cheese, and a bit thinner onion.

I kind of expected it to make my stomach upset, Brie has a tendency to do to that to some extent. The Limburger really didn’t. That surprises me but since it’s a bacteria and not a mold that produces the flavor that might have something to do with it. Since we all have this bacteria on us and in us, I guess that’s why. I’m mildly lactose intolerant so I am guessing the bacteria broke the cheese down enough it doesn’t cause a lot of issues for me.

I can definitely see why this would be a popular sandwich in some areas. It’s relatively inexpensive, a lot of flavor at room temperature or just a little cooler. It’s one of those things that might be a local favorite especially if you were raised eating it. If I were somewhere that served this and I wasn’t worried about the inevitable smell, I would order it. It’s not going to do pretty things to your breath at all. Kind of a guy’s “I dare you” foods.

On a scale of one to ten, ten being “Awesome”, I’d give this an easy four. It’s not terrible. Overall it doesn’t sit with my tastes very well.

My Ideas

The first thing I’d do is not toast the bread at all and cut it a little thicker. The pumpernickel is pretty airy and with even just a light toast it is very fragile. Maybe use a denser bread.

I’d treat the cheese a little differently. I’d either let it warm up so it spread easier, or I’d slice it up. Kraft or some other company supposedly makes or made a processed limburger type cheese that might be more acceptable to American tastes. If that’s still available somewhere, it might be a better alternative.

The onion was probably the weirdest thing about the sandwich. I kind of wanted something meatier than just a big slice of onion. Perhaps a different kind of onion, and a strong sausage of some kind would be better. It wasn’t unpleasant, but there’s room for improvement there. I might have got the onion to cheese ratio wrong after looking at some pictures online.

The mustard stays.

As just an onion sandwich, I’d make it smaller and serve it with a meat of some kind. Again sausage or something like that would be excellent.

I’d also have yogurt for dessert to deal with the breath problem. Preferably greek style yogurt (Like Oikos, although I make my own). Then follow that up with a mint. Or two. Or a whole box.

Variation

A neat variation might be a wheat bread with apple and labneh cheese as a sweeter, healthier variation.  Would probably fit most people’s palate a lot better, especially Americans. Maybe have honey or olive oil in place of the mustard.

Limburger has a LOT of calories and a crapload of cholesterol. If you have issue with that it’d be a good idea to avoid this particular sandwich.

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