The most dangerous cheese in the world, casu marzu is an Italian delicacy defined by its illegal status and the maggots that infest it.
You’re going on a trip to Italy. You’re planning on taking advantage of the famously delicious cuisine by locating the best gelato, pizza, and wine around.
However, clearly, you haven’t done your research because the most authentic, delectable, delicacy is actually casu marzu, a highly specific type of cheese. Or, if you want to be all ‘American’ about it, you can simply call it maggot cheese.
Casu marzu comes from the charming Italian island of Sardinia, located in the Mediterranian Sea. The cheese is made from sheep’s milk. Casu marzu takes some time to make (What kind of quality cheese doesn’t?), but the process itself is easy. When it’s finished, a casu marzu cheese should roughly contain thousands of maggots.
Steps are as follows:
First, the sheep’s milk is heated. Then it is given about three weeks to sit so that it can curdle.
Next, the crust is cut off. This makes it inviting for flies to enter, who then lay their eggs.
Afterwards, the cheese is left in a dark hut for two or three months. During that time the eggs hatch into larvae and promptly begin to eat the now rotting cheese.
The excretions that pass through their bodies are essential, as they are what gives the cheese its distinct soft texture and rich flavor.
And (as the Italians say) Presto! You have your casu marzu. The best comparison that can be made is to the taste of a very ripe gorgonzola cheese. Though, what you’re actually tasting is larvae excrement.
Now, if this bizarre delicacy sounds absolutely amazing to you and you’ve decided that you must have it for the Italian experience, we’ve got some bad news for you. It is extremely difficult to get your hands on the elusive and maggot infested cheese.
Due to (what may be thought of as obvious) health implications, the sticklers at the EU European Food Safety Authority have banned the cheese. Therefore, those wishing to eat some casu marzu must go through the Italian black market.
Consider it another step towards a truly authentic Italian experience. Sure, any tourist can mindlessly indulge in a cannoli. But to track down an expensive, illegal, maggot infested cheese via the black market. Now that’s rewarding.
Once the casu marzu is acquired, there are a few tips on the correct way to eat it:
It is important for one to note whether the maggots are alive or not. Dead maggots are usually an indication that the cheese has gone bad. Thus, casu marzu is to be consumed when the maggots are still alive.
When eating the cheese, one is meant to close their eyes. It’s not to avoid looking at the maggots as you eat them but to protect your eyes from them. When bothered, the maggots will jump up, sometimes going as high as six inches.
Next tip, it is imperative for one to properly chew and kill the maggots before swallowing. Otherwise, they can live in the body and rip holes through the intestines. No biggie. But kind of a biggie.
The next step is less of a safety precaution and more of a way to just enhance the culinary experience. It’s advised to enjoy the casu marzu with a moistened flatbread. It also pairs well with a glass of strong red wine. Potentially because the two go well together, possibly because of the added liquid courage.
Sure, casu marzu may come with some caveats. It’s dangerous, illegal, and if you’re on the uncultured side of things, maybe think it’s a bit gross.
But it’s not highly saught after for nothing. Sardianians claim the cheese is an aphrodisiac, enjoying it at weddings and other celebrations.
And if the saying that the stinkier, the better is true, than the more live maggots, the better takes cheese standards to a whole new level.