I’d Taste It: Michael Pollan’s Bellybutton Bacteria Made into Cheese

michael pollan

Surely he showers. He always looks clean in interviews, even despite all the time he must spend in the kitchen. So, how gnarly could the bacteria living in Michael Pollan’s bellybutton actually be? Why am I asking, you wonder? Because someone cultured bacteria from the best-selling author’s innie (or does he have an outie?), and turned it into cheese. That you could eat. Technically.

UCLA Microbioligist Christina Agapakis partnered with artist Sissel Tolaas to create cheeses from microbes that grow on human skin. Michael Pollan, the author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and his latest, “Cooked,” where he actually experiments with cheese making, was an obvious candidate. “The microbiologist used swabs from her mouth and skin, as well as from Pollan’s belly button, [Olafur] Eliasson’s tears and another scientist’s feet,” reports NPR. “She grew the bacteria and yeast in Petri dishes in the lab and then, once she had enough, she added them to fresh milk. The result was a cheese designed to make you rethink the sometimes fine line between stinky and appetizing.” And not to mention what’s growing in your bellybutton.

michael pollan cheese

According to Agapakis, the bacteria that colonizes in our bellybuttons are similar to those found in some strains of cheese, “So a lot of the smells on cheese are very similar to body odors.” Did Freud ever address this one?

The cheeses are on display now at the Science Gallery at Trinity College in Dublin. Guests can smell the cheese, but leave the crackers at home; nibbling is not allowed.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Fran Collin (top), NPR