Why does Brie and Camembert smell like mushrooms?
“Mushroomy” or “Earthy” is a common descriptor for many different Bries and Camemberts. This aroma can usually be smelled at the surface of older (but not too old) white mold cheeses. The mushroomy aroma can be attributed, in large part, to the metabolism of the surface mold.
As we’ve discussed previously, the primary microbe on the surface of white mold cheese is Penicillium camemberti. This mold can exhibit lipolytic activity; meaning it breaks down the fat in the cheese. Since many of these cheeses are pretty high in fat, there is plenty of material for P. camemberti to work its magic on. One specific compound that is a consequence of P. camemberti’s metabolism is 1-octen-3-ol. This compound, also known as mushroom alcohol, is one of the primary causes of the mushroomy aroma in white mold cheese.
While we often talk about flavors and aromas being caused by certain compounds, it’s important to remember that the unique taste and aroma of cheese is caused by a whole menagerie of chemicals. Cheese flavor is definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.