Casu Marzu: An Illegal Cheese

Casu Marzu

Those with a weak stomach may want to stop reading now, as there is an Italian cheese delicacy that is not for the faint of heart.

In a past issue, Cheese Connoisseur detailed the making of Anthill cheese, chèvre topped with citrus-flavored ants originating from Australia.

Italy’s Casu Marzu takes pairing cheese and insects a big step further. Known as ‘maggot cheese’ and originating from Sardinia, this variety includes thousands of live maggots.

It’s produced by heating either sheep or cow’s milk or a combination of the two, which then sits for approximately 21 days to enable curdling. When the crust is then removed, flies move in to lay their eggs. It takes about two to three months for the eggs to hatch into larvae that eat the rotting cheese.

Casu Marzu’s soft texture and Gorgonzola-like flavor are attributed to the maggot defecations. If the maggots are dead, the cheese is no good. However, it’s necessary to thoroughly chew the maggots while consuming the cheese, or these can do severe damage to the body, a.k.a. myiasis. Adding to the fun is that maggots tend to coil and leap up to 3 feet towards your face as a protective measure. Thus, it’s recommended those that imbibe close their eyes while consuming this cheese. It’s a risk versus reward scenario so to speak. For more adventurous consumers who may want to know where to find this cheese, it’s not easy. In 2002, its production and sale was banned by the EU European Food Safety Authority. An attempt by Sardinians to get a PDO for Casu Marzu in 2004 was unsuccessful. At the present time, this cheese, which is listed as the most dangerous in the world for human health by the Guinness World Records, is only available through Italy’s black market. Good luck and bon appetít!

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