The world is a weird place, so it was only a matter of time until something like this happened. A London-based biolab, Open Cell, has created “microbial portraits” of five celebrities by using bacteria taken from their armpits, nose, toes and belly buttons to make cheese. The project is part of the FOOD: Bigger than the Plate exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum and is meant to educate people on how microbes are a vital part of almost all the food we eat (think chocolate, beer, bread, pickles and other fermented things).
Okaaay… mark us down as disgusted but intrigued.
As the museum explains, making cheese requires two sets of microbes: the ones added in the beginning which start the process off and then more added a little later which determine what kind of cheese develops. The celebs offered up the starter bacteria and then chose what kind of cheese they wanted their samples to become. Musician Alex James created a Cheshire cheese; Chef Heston Blumenthal became a comté cheese; rapper Professor Green made mozzarella; The Great British Bake-Off winner Ruby Tandoh chose Stilton; and singer Suggs created cheddar.
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V&A’s exhibition FOOD: Bigger than the Plate featuring five cheeses cultured from human bacteria. Microbial Portraits of musician and cheesemaker Alex James (Blur), chef Heston Blumenthal, British rapper Professor Green, baker and food writer Ruby Tandoh, and Madness frontman Suggs will be on display, recreated as Cheshire cheese, comte, mozzarella, stilton and cheddar! https://www.opencell.bio/post/food-bigger-than-the-plate @opencellondon @foodbusker @vamuseum @alexjamesofficial @sssl_berlin @professorgreen @ruby.tandoh #PlateUp
The project—entitled, “Selfmade”—is a collaboration between biologist Christina Agapakis and artist Sissel Tolaas. Tolaas works primarily with smell and the idea was born from the observation that many cheeses smell disturbingly similar to certain body odours. It turns out that the body and cheese not only share olfactory characteristics, they actually contain very similar microbes. Go figure!
This whole thing is meant to be “making the invisible visible and challenging us to reconsider our feelings of disgust, as bacteria cross boundaries between our bodies, our environment and our food.” We’re definitely still feeling a little (okay, a lot) squeamish, but we admit, it’s also kind of cool. You gotta get bacteria from somewhere to make the foods we love so the only unusual part of the process is the fact it’s from a human.
“We like to live in comfortable ignorance of the fact that the cheddar in our sandwich is milk with a load of bacteria added to it,” Ruby Tandoh wrote in her Guardian column. “But it is important to confront the reality that the bacteria in cheese are not dissimilar to those on our skin and all around us.”
So is this cheese edible? They’re still testing it. Since skin can host a whole array of nasty bacteria in addition to its good bacteria, they need to check that no fungi or viruses were added into the cheese. In theory, if it’s just good bacteria, the cheeses should all be totally edible.