Liederkranz: Our Own Stinky Cheese

It smells terrible, but tastes great

Liederkranz Cheese.

Its name is German and its pungent aroma might be called downright alien, but Liederkranz is a real American cheese. The story of its creation begins with a German immigrant cheese factory owner named Adolphe Tode, who ran the Monroe Cheese Co. in Monroe, in New York's Hudson Valley. Tode had customers who wanted a locally produced version of a smelly German cheese called Bismarck Schlosskase. In 1891, one of his cheesemakers, Emil Frey — who also invented Velveeta for Tode — eventually came up with a good reproduction. Members of a famous New York City singing society, the Liederkranz Club (the word means "wreath of song"), were among the first to sample the new cheese, and Tode named it in their honor. (Liederkranz is also closely related to another strong German cheese, Limburger.)

The saga of Liederkranz since its early days is a complicated one. Tode sold his company to new owners in the 1920s and the operation was moved to Van Wert, Ohio, with Frey in tow. In 1929, it was bought by the Borden Company, who ran the plant and produced Liederkranz and other cheeses until 1981. That year, following a fire that damaged the facility, Borden sold the company to the Fisher Cheese Company. In 1985, bacterial contamination was discovered in a batch of Liederkranz and several other Fisher cheeses, and production of Liederkranz was halted. The name and culture were sold to Beatrice Foods, which was in turn subsumed by the agribusiness giant ConAgra, and Liederkranz disappeared from the marketplace. ConAgra sold off their cheese holdings to DCI Cheese Co., makers of Black Diamond Cheddar and other popular brands, in the mid-2000s.

DCI, based in Richfield, Wis., thought that renewed interest in traditional and regional American products and our increased exposure as a nation to varied cheeses from around the world might mean that there could be a renewed market for Liederkranz, and based on Emil Frey's original recipe and new cultures developed by the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, they released the first Liederkranz seen in a quarter-century in 2010. It has lost none of its power. If you can get past its ammoniated (some would say acrid) odor, it is pretty good — creamy, sharp, a little sweet, and very, very strong. Take a few bites of Liederkranz, and you'll know you've been eating cheese. So will everyone around you.