Casu Marzu: Cheese with live worms!
By Nadia Vitari
Most of us really surrender in front of Italian food, and coming straight from that country, I can guarantee you, surely Mediterranean cuisine is often unbeatable! Olive oil, ham, authentic gelato, past, pizza, fresh seafood, fish and cheese… but do you know one of its dairy product is actually featured on CNN list of the world’s most disgusting foods? That’s right, if you are ever vacationing in the beautiful island of Sardinia, would you have the courage to try the local cheese called Casu Marzu, which in the local dialect means “rotten cheese”?
So what is it really? It comes from sheep milk and it follows a very old and traditional preparation and obviously you won’t find it in stores but just sold “illegally” by farmers. It’s not rotten, as many assume but it is basically infested by fly maggots which you are supposed to eat together with the cheese. In fact, what is peculiar is that farmers deliberately insert these fly eggs into whole Pecorino cheese and leave them there to ferment until they create a smoother and soft paste inside.
Think that a female Piophila casei (the name of the cheese fly) can lay over five hundred eggs at once, so the cheese is really infested by these maggots, but they are essential to create the cream as it’s their digestive acid that turns the otherwise hard cheese into this smooth paste.
Not only that, but locals consider it unsafe to eat it if the worms are dead, so you really have to taste it while they are still pretty lively! For this reason, it can’t be refrigerated as low temperatures kill these very nice insects!
So are you ready to give it a try? How, you will probably ask!
Well, it is not sliced up but you are supposed to spread it on bread slices (if you want to follow the tradition in full, you spread tiny stripes onto moistened Pane Carasau, the local dry and flat bread which comes in very thin layers) as you first cut off the top of the whole cheese and then you use the creamy paste as a dip, eating those worms with it! The taste is quite peculiar and spicy and it is usually paired with local superb red wine Cannonau. Moreover, these worms don’t really enjoy being eaten or bothered so they will try to get away by jumping off and they can even cover a distance of 15 centimeters / 6 inches: this is why “foodies” have to protect their lovely snack by placing their hands over it.
Last but not the least, Casu Marzu is considered to be aphrodisiac, you believe that, don’t you?
Most recently sheep farmers have worked jointly with the University of Sassari to come up with a method that would comply with the strict European Union food hygiene-health regulations as to overcome its ban; yet, its status remains unclear as Casu Marzu is not listed as an officially recognized traditional product. Some variants of cheese with worms can also be found in the neighboring Corsica, France and Germany.
So are you ready to give it a try?!
About Nadia Vitari
Passionate traveler and backpacker, Nadia comes from the Lake of Como area in Italy (yes, where George Clooney lives!). She moved to Mumbai to work for an NGO. Being Italian and having lived, worked and studied in different countries, she is passionate about food and other cultures, especially anything Japanese! She also loves reading, football and rock music.
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