It’s the ultimate foodie trophy: cheese cultured from the bacteria in Michael Pollan’s belly button.
Food writer Michael Pollan made his personal contribution to an art exhibit in Ireland called ‘Selfmade’ that explores the way we interact with our microbial landscape. The exhibit pushes us to consider our uneasy relationship with pungency and aroma—so celebrated in food yet reviled in our own bodies.
Bacteria samples were collected from artists, scientists, anthropologists, and cheese makers, including Michael Pollan’s navel lint and artist Olafur Eliasson’s tears. Other contributions came from inside noses, mouths, armpits, and between toes. Each of the 11 samples became the basis for a different cheesemaking starter culture, which is basically any bacteria that can produce lactic acid.
Washed-rind molds and blue veins get all the attention, but it’s mostly the nature of the microbial population that gives a cheese its flavor and texture and produces its aromatic compounds. The unique bacterial signature of each human donor truly resulted in 11 different cheeses of varying character.
If you ever thought that a cheese smelled like stinky feet, you were scientifically correct—human bodies and cheese both hoard similar microbial populations. The exhibit crosses the boundaries between culturally defined ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ smells. Its creator hopes that we’ll question why we choose to eliminate some of them with antiseptic and pair others with a 2012 Riesling.
‘Selfmade’ runs until January 19, 2014 at the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin.