Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Invalid's Story

"The Invalid's Story" is a humorous short story by Mark Twain about a catastrophic mixup involving a dead body and a hunk of Limburger cheese. To give the story multi-sensory effect, I bought some Limburger cheese (as well as a few others more tasty and less, well, obnoxious) for a cheese-sampling party.

I have to admit that I had never been exposed to Limburger cheese. I knew that it had a reputation for being stinky, but I honestly expected that to have been exaggerated.

It wasn't.

Limburger cheese is some of the most vile-smelling stuff on the planet.

Yes, I did taste it. I figured I owed the kids that much. Some of the kids tasted it, too. It doesn't taste nearly as foul as it smells, although it certainly is strong and even a bit bitter. The unfortunate result, however, is that any surface (including your fingers) which come into contact with the cheese then becomes foul-smelling and difficult to clean.

As the cheese becomes room-temperature and even perhaps a bit warm, the aroma wafts throughout the classroom and begins to evoke retching and gagging. If I hadn't been there myself, I'd say the kids were engaging in some hyperbolae, but I was there, and they weren't.

Limburger cheese smells like dirty underwear, or rotting roadkill, or perhaps both of those items after having been consumed and regurgitated.

I wish I were kidding, but I am not. I actually read that the bacterium responsible for Limburger cheese is also one of the main bacteria found in human sweat. How appetizing is that? Yeccch.

Here's one of my brave freshman boys, about to "be a man" and eat some cheese:

And here's an illustration by another freshman of the Limburger experience:

I also provided a sample of Gouda, Chevre and Muenster cheeses, which were much more warmly received. Each student then had to write a short descriptive paper about the experience (even those who hadn't wanted to eat it had certainly smelled it, so they were able to describe it). It turned out to be a great lesson, and one which I believe will stick in their minds for a while.

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