Casu marzu: The world’s ‘most harmful’ cheese

(CNN) — The Italian island of Sardinia sits in the midst of the Tyrrhenian Sea, gazing at Italy from a distance. Surrounded by a 1,849-kilometer shoreline of white sandy seashores and emerald waters, the island’s inland panorama quickly rises to kind hills and impervious mountains.

And it’s inside these edgy curves that shepherds produce casu marzu, a maggot-infested cheese that, in 2009, the Guinness World Document proclaimed the world’s most harmful cheese.

Cheese skipper flies, Piophila casei, lay their eggs in cracks that kind in cheese, normally fiore sardo, the island’s salty pecorino.

Maggots hatch, making their approach by the paste, digesting proteins within the course of, and remodeling the product right into a gentle creamy cheese.

Then the cheesemonger cracks open the highest — which is sort of untouched by maggots — to scoop out a spoonful of the creamy delicacy.

It is not a second for the faint-hearted. At this level, the grubs inside start to writhe frantically.

Some locals spin the cheese by a centrifuge to merge the maggots with the cheese. Others prefer it au naturel. They open their mouths and eat all the pieces.

Casu marzu is made with sheeps’ milk.

Sean Gallup/Getty Photographs

If you’ll be able to overcome the comprehensible disgust, marzu has a taste that’s intense with reminders of the Mediterranean pastures and spicy with an aftertaste that stays for hours.

Some say it is an aphrodisiac. Others say that it could possibly be harmful for human well being as maggots might survive the chew and and create myiasis, micro-perforations within the gut, however thus far, no such case has been linked to casu marzu.

“The maggot infestation is the spell and delight of this cheese,” says Paolo Solinas, a 29-year-old Sardinian gastronome.

He says some Sardinians cringe on the considered casu marzu, however others raised on a lifetime of salty pecorino unabashedly love its robust flavors.

“Some shepherds see the cheese as a novel private pleasure, one thing that just some elects can attempt,” Solinas provides.

Archaic delicacies

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It is unlawful to promote or purchase casu marzu.

Giovanni Fancello

When vacationers go to Sardinia, they normally wind up in a restaurant that serves porceddu sardo, a slowly roasted suckling piglet, go to bakers who promote pane carasau, a standard paper-thin flatbread, and meet shepherds who produce fiore sardo, the island pecorino cheese.

But, in case you are adventurous sufficient, it is potential to seek out the casu marzu. It should not be seen as a bizarre attraction, however a product that retains alive an historic custom and hints at what the way forward for meals may appear like.

Giovanni Fancello, a 77-year-old Sardinian journalist and gastronome, spent his life researching native meals historical past. He is traced it again to a time when Sardinia was a province of the Roman empire.

“Latin was our language, and it is in our dialect that we discover traces of our archaic delicacies,” Fancello says.

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The cheese can solely be produced at sure instances of yr when the sheeps’ milk is correct.

Alice Mastinu

There is no such thing as a written document of Sardinian recipes till 1909, in response to Fancello. That is when Vittorio Agnetti, a physician from mainland Modena, traveled to Sardinia and compiled six recipes in a guide referred to as “La nuova cucina delle specialità regionali.”

“However we have now at all times eaten worms,” says Fancello. “Pliny the Elder and Aristotle talked about it.”

Ten different Italian areas have their variant of maggot-infested cheese, however whereas the merchandise elsewhere are thought to be one-offs, casu marzu is intrinsically a part of Sardinian meals tradition.

The cheese has a number of totally different names, corresponding to casu becciu, casu fattittu, hasu muhidu, formaggio marcio. Every sub-region of the island has its personal approach of manufacturing it utilizing totally different sorts of milk.

‘Magic and supernatural occasions’

Foodies impressed by the exploits of cooks corresponding to Gordon Ramsay typically come looking for the cheese, says Fancello. “They ask us: ‘How do you make casu marzu?’ It is a part of our historical past. We’re the sons of this meals. It is the results of likelihood, of magic and supernatural occasions.”

Fancello grew up within the city of Thiesi along with his father Sebastiano, who was a shepherd who made casu marzu. Facello shepherded his household’s sheep to grazing grounds round rural Monte Ruju, misplaced within the clouds, the place magic was believed to occur.

He remembers that, for his father, casu marzu was a divine reward. If his cheeses did not turn into infested with maggots, he could be determined. A few of the cheese he produced stayed for the household, others went to mates or individuals who requested for it.

Casu Marzu is often produced on the finish of June when native sheep milk begins to alter because the animals enter their reproductive time and the grass dries from the summer time warmth.

The coastal town of Alghero in Sardnina.

The coastal city of Alghero in Sardnina.

MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP through Getty Photographs

If a heat sirocco wind blows on the cheesemaking day, the cheese-transforming magic works even more durable. Fancello says it is as a result of the cheese has a weaker construction, making the fly’s job simpler.

After three months, the delicacy is prepared.

Mario Murrocu, 66, retains casu marzu traditions alive at his farm, Agriturismo Sa Mandra, close to Alghero within the north of Sardinia. He additionally retains 300 sheep and hosts visitors in his trattoria, and retains casu marzu traditions alive.

“You understand when a kind will turn into casu marzu,” he says. “You see it from the weird spongy texture of the paste,” Murrocu says.

These days, this is not a lot all the way down to luck as the perfect situations that cheesemongers now use to make sure as many casu marzu as potential. They’ve additionally discovered a approach to make use of glass jars to preserve the cheese, which historically by no means lasted past September, for years.

Excessive fines

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Sardinia’s uncommon cheese dates again to Roman instances.

Alice Mastinu

Although revered, the cheese’s authorized standing is a grey space.

Casu marzu is registered as a standard product of Sardinia and subsequently is regionally protected. Nonetheless, it has been deemed unlawful by the Italian authorities since 1962 attributable to legal guidelines that prohibit the consumption of meals contaminated by parasites.

Those that promote the cheese can face excessive fines as much as €50,000 (about $60,000) however Sardinians snicker when requested concerning the prohibition of their beloved cheese.

Analysis reveals that their consumption might assist cut back carbon dioxide emissions related to animal farming and assist alleviate the local weather disaster.
Roberto Flore, the Sardinian head of Skylab FoodLab, the meals system change laboratory of the Technical College of Denmark’s innovation hub, has lengthy studied the idea of insect consumption.
For a couple of years, he led the Nordic Meals Lab analysis and improvement workforce — a part of the three-Michelin-starred NOMA restaurant — attempting to determine methods to insert bugs into our eating regimen.

“Numerous cultures affiliate the insect with an ingredient,” Flore says. That mentioned, Sardinians choose the cheese to the maggot and are sometimes horrified by the concept individuals eat scorpions or crickets in Thailand.

Flore says he is traveled world wide to check how totally different cultures strategy bugs as meals and believes that whereas psychological boundaries make it troublesome to radically alter consuming habits, such consumption is widespread.

Open thoughts

Insect consumption is more commonplace in countries such as Thailand.

Insect consumption is extra commonplace in international locations corresponding to Thailand.


“How do you outline edible meals?” he says .”Each area of the world has a special technique to eat bugs.”

He is satisfied that Sardinia’s delicacy is fit for human consumption.

“I imagine that no person has ever died consuming casu marzu. In the event that they did, possibly they had been drunk. You understand, once you eat it, you additionally drink numerous wine.”

Flore hopes casu marzu will quickly shed its clandestine standing and turn into a logo of Sardinia — not due to its uncommon manufacturing, however as a result of it is emblematic of different meals now vanishing as a result of they do not slot in with fashionable mainstream tastes.

Islanders and researchers hope that the European Union will quickly rule of their favor.

Till then, anybody who needs to pattern it might want to ask round after they get to Sardinia.

For these keen to droop issues about what they’re consuming, it provides an genuine expertise recalling a time when nothing was thrown away and when boundaries of what was edible or not had been much less nicely outlined.

Cheesemonger Murrocu says that, fittingly, locals maintain an open thoughts about the easiest way to eat casu marzu, however a couple of different regional treats have been identified to assist it slip down simpler.

“We unfold the cheese on moist pane carasau, and we eat it,” he says. “However you’ll be able to eat it as you need, so long as there’s some formaggio marcio and an excellent cannonau wine.”