Just when I thought I was in a country full of edible delights, delicious pastries, pastas, cheeses, and wines, I come across a cheese that I only imagined to be true in my most vivid nightmares: Casu Marzu.
Coming from the beautiful and enchanting island of Sardinia, off the west coast of central Italy, Casu Marzu is considered a traditional delicacy. Let us first deconstruct the cheese’s name…..
Casu Marzu, is Sardinian dialect for rotten cheese (in Italian formaggio marcio). Rotten?! Absolutely. Though the cheese starts as a pleasant and delicious form of Pecorino, it then undergoes various processes of decomposition by being left outside for extended periods in order to reach its final and ‘perfected’ state. When the cheese is in it’s advanced stages of decomposition, the eggs of the Phiophila Casei larva species are implanted into the cheese and allowed to hatch. mmmm worms.
The worms are an essential part of the development of the cheese’s texture and taste. It is thought that as these larvae hatch and begin to eat through the cheese, they break down the cheese’s fats giving it an extremely soft and unique texture. The taste of the cheese has been compared to an extremely ripe gorgonzola…only without the blue veins and of course, the sanitary guarantee.
Aside from the disgusting, the cheese has been the topic of much controversy in Italy in the rest of Europe regarding issues of sanitary health and legality. It has been found that mass consumption (or any consumption in my opinion) of Piophila Casei larvae can cause various health concerns, including vomiting, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, and gastric lesions. This is because this particular breed of larvae is somewhat resistant to human stomach acids, allowing them to live and reproduce for extended periods within the gastric system!!!
Regardless of its legal state, this cheese is continued to be produced in Sardegna, and can be found on the black market for double the cost of normal Pecorino cheese.
If that doesn’t tempt you enough, Casu Marzu might be the world’s only cheese that requires protective eye-wear. Casu Marzu is considered toxic if the larvae inside have died and fermented, therefore it is required that this cheese is eaten while the worms are still alive. It is important to note however, that these worms have the capacity to jump has high as 6 inches. If they make contact with the eye, they may lay eggs immediately and cause further vision concerns. Because of this minor detail, many prefer to place their slice of Casu Marzu in a paper bag in order to suffocate the living worms. Once the popping sounds of the larvae hitting the bag have subsided, the cheese is safe to eat.
I don’t know if this cheese concerns anyone else, but there is a distinct possibility that I will have to eat this next week on my field trip to Sardegna… basically if I don’t update in 3 weeks, I am either dead/hospitalized by cause of intestinal worm infestation..
Grassroots Gourmet folks, Grassroots Gourmet.