Hear me for just a second in this story, telling a SXSW-goer to “really dig in there”. The jokes write themselves!!
This was really fun and a very informative experiment on how cheese is made, biologically speaking. Ever wonder what would happen if you made cheese from bacteria living on your own skin? That’s in there, too. Turns out that making traditional cheese and “human cheese” share a lot of similarities.
Thanks to Christina for letting me help on this, and thanks to Lindsay for putting this story together! A fascinating look at cheeseology.
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.