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It’s no secret that cheese is one of the most beloved foods on the planet. Humans first started making cheese around 4,000 years ago and continue to create new and exciting varieties. Today, there are roughly 2,000 different types of cheese. One of the most bizarre cheeses is casu marzu. People seem to love it, but some might be skeptical to taste this strange type of cheese. Here’s everything you need to know about casu marzu.
What Is Casu Marzu?
Casu marzu is a special type of cheese that’s made only on the island of Sardinia in Italy. Instead of regular cow’s milk, casu marzu is made using sheep’s milk. However, that's not the special ingredient that makes it illegal in most countries.
Making casu marzu is a lengthy process. The first step is to heat the sheep’s milk and then allow it to sit for about three weeks to curdle. Once the milk is hardened, the crust is removed to reveal the soft interior. This is where the process gets interesting.
The Secret Ingredient
So, what’s the special ingredient that makes casu marzu so bizarre? Maggots! That’s right. This cheese is completely infested — on purpose — with a special type of insect called “the cheese maggot.” Once the crust is removed, cheese flies are invited into the crafting room. The smell of the freshly-made cheese is irresistible, so they flock to its soft, crustless wheel and lay their eggs.
Once the flies lay their eggs, the cheese is left in a dark room for up to three months. During that time, the cheese rots and the eggs hatch into larvae. The larvae waste no time enjoying their delicious environment. The cheese passes through the larvae’s systems and gives the cheese an almost liquified texture and unique flavor. After enough time has passed, the casu marzu is removed from the dark and eaten — larvae and all. Bon appétit! Casu marzu literally translates to “Maggot cheese.”
How to Eat Casu Marzu
Due to its bizarre nature, casu marzu comes with some instructions regarding proper eating technique. There’s only one instruction. Shut your eyes before taking a bite. Why? Because the maggots are still alive! If you get a piece of casu marzu filled with dead maggots, you know the cheese has gone bad.
The maggots aren’t entirely happy when their home and food source gets destroyed. When agitated, the maggots jump — sometimes up to six inches high. In order to protect your eyes, shut them before taking a bite.
Why People Love It
After all these enticing descriptions of casu marzu, you’re probably wondering why anyone would willingly eat such a strange cheese. It comes down to its texture and flavor. Since it has essentially been pre-eaten by the maggots, casu marzu has an extremely soft texture and a robust flavor that’s similar to ripe gorgonzola. It also causes a burning sensation on your tongue.
In addition to its unique flavor and texture, it’s very difficult to find. Casu marzu is found only in Sardinia and even then, it’s nearly impossible to find. The exclusivity adds another dimension of enjoyment for hardcore cheese-lovers around the world.
Why It's Illegal
It’s no surprise that casu marzu isn’t loved by everyone — especially health officials. The risks of eating live maggots on rotten cheese include allergic reactions, nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting. Due to such risks, casu marzu has been outlawed by Italy and the European Union.
Despite its illegality, there are still some people who make and sell casu marzu — just not in authorized shops. Many people — especially residents of Sardinia — think of the cheese as a delicacy. It’s even served at special occasions and weddings.