It’s finally here! The human cheese is here!
For the past six months, when people ask “What are you working on?” I have to explain what “human cheese” is. Hearing the reaction to that phrase never got old.
The short version is that Christina Agapakis, a brilliant and hip biologist (and a childhood friend of my best friend), has made cheese using human bacteria. It’s a pretty simple project actually. Most cheeses start with bacteria. Christina has just replaced the pure strains with a potpourri of bacterial communities taken from the dirtiest places on the body.
I did most of the recording at South By Southwest, where I (and a few other Austin science communicators) helped Christina set up an event called South By South Swab. It was at a popular bar called Cheer Up Charlie’s. The human cheese project started as an art/science collaboration, but Christina is now interpreting it more as a science outreach project. You can see the project at bacterially.org.
I got some awesome tape, most of which was not appropriate to put on an educational podcast (see “I’m Gonna Make Cheese Outta You”).
I also got to talk with Austin’s most famous cheesemonger, John Antonelli. The man knows a heck of a lot about cheese. If you want to know more about the science of cheese making, he recommends Harold McGee’s book, On Food and Cooking.
This was a very fun story. Many thanks to my amazing and patient editor, Mia Lobel, as well as Christina Agapakis, John Antonelli, and Joe Hanson.
[Update: This was produced for Distillations, a podcast from the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Hear the rest of the "gross foods" episode.]