While most of us go to great lengths to prevent maggots in our food, Casu Marzu, a traditional Sardinian cheese, features them in all their live, wriggling glory (or should that be gory?)
How it's Made
The cheese is steeped in history and has been made by Sardinians for hundreds of years. Sans maggots, it's similar to pecorino: an Italian cheese made from sheep's milk. The main difference is that after it's made, a hole is cut in the top and the cheese is placed outdoors where cheese flies (Piophila casei) can find it and use it as a cheap hotel room for trysts and baby making.
Why would you want flies to lay eggs in your cheese? Well, the eggs hatch to become maggots and these larval flies eat the cheese, leaving behind excretions of pre-digested fats, proteins, and sugars. Basically, the larvae are fermenting the cheese to an extreme degree. While cheeses that are aged in ways we're more familiar and comfortable with tend to lose moisture while developing flavor, casu marzu becomes very soft as it develops flavor.
Hazards of Dining
Aside from the sheer cringe factor of eating live worms (Sardinians believe that the cheese is unsafe to eat when the maggots have died) eating casu marzu can be logistically challenging. The maggots in the cheese get upset when the cheese is disturbed and can actually jump around. And when I write jump, I don't mean inch around a little, I mean launch themselves for distances of up to 6 inches! To prevent their meal from literally hopping off the plate, diners will hold a hand above the cheese spread bread slice as they raise it to their mouth. Personally, if I were to try it I'd go with some stylish onion goggles.
While casu marzu is the most well known "maggot cheese" it's not the only one. Other cheese known for containing live insect larvae include:
- Casgiu merzu in Corsica, France
- Marcetto in Abruzzo, Italy
- Casu du quagghiu in Calabria, Italy
- Cacie' Punt in Molise, Italy
Can I Try It?
You can't buy casu marzu in the U.S. (the legality of the cheese is a matter of contention in the EU, which means it can't be exported for purchase here). It used to be that if you were dying to try a cheese created by living critters, you could get a hunk of Mimolette, but as of October 2013 the FDA started banning the import of Mimolette from France due to the tiny mites that live on its rind. Until the FDA relaxes its standard of 6 mites per square inch, you'll just have to enjoy less lively cheeses.
Learn more about this cheese and many more at culture: the word on cheese.
Photo credit: hospitalitymarketplace