Object recognition is a crucial component of both visual and auditory perception. It is also critical for olfaction. Most odours are composed of 10s or 100s of volatile components, yet they are perceived as unitary perceptual events against a continually shifting olfactory background (ie figure – ground segregation). We argue here that this occurs by rapid central adaptation to background odours combined with a pattern-matching system to recognise discrete sets of spatial and temporal olfactory features—an odour object. We present supporting neuropsychological, learning, and developmental evidence and then describe the neural circuitry which underpins this. The vagaries of an object-recognition approach are then discussed, with emphasis on the putative importance of memory, multimodal representations, and top – down processing.