For this week’s edition of the Winchester Food Tour’s Weird Food Wednesday we bring you Casu Marzu! As a cheese lover, I enjoy bringing specialty cheeses to people’s attention, a “cheese lover’s dream,” if you will. That’s not so in this case, as I find this to be the stuff of culinary nightmares, unless of course, you’re one of those “adventurous eaters.”
At first glance, this looks like a classic bread bowl filled with cheesy goodness that one might find on the table amongst a vast holiday spread of food lovers’ follies! But as we know in the digital age (and even before), photographs can be deceiving! The literal translation is “rotten, putrid cheese.” That immediately moves it to the less-than-appetizing column. The reality is that this is a Sardinian sheep milk cheese that is loaded up with live maggots. It’s preparation is described as going beyond a normal fermentation stage to a decomposition stage, which is brought about by the digestive action of the insect larvae, that is the “cheese fly.” Unlike many of the other usual foods we’ve featured at Taste Winchester History, the origins of this dish is Italy and France.
We’ve read that the best flavor comparison is that it tastes like a very ripe gorgonzola cheese, but further research indicates that it is due to the flavor of the larvae excrement. Due to the dangerous health implications of eating this cheese, it’s actually banned in the European Union and word has it that it is only attainable on the Italian black market. This is because the cheese is only (barely) viable for consumption when the maggots are alive. Once they are dead, their decomposition renders the cheese “bad” and quite literally toxic for consumption. Even when alive, you have to close your eyes to protect them from the jumping maggots, known to spring as far as six inches; and if that’s not enough to discourage the adventuresome side of your culinary exploits, you must be certain to chew the maggots to death before swallowing, otherwise they can and likely will wreak unimaginable and possibly deadly consequences upon your intestinal tract.
Despite the health warnings, people in Sardinia claim to have been eating Casu Marzu for hundreds of years without any problem. The Italian cheese is often brought out for special occasions like birthdays, bachelor parties, and weddings. According to folklore, Casu Marzu is even an aphrodisiac. Of course it is, if what turns you on is painful intestinal disturbances and flirting with death by maggot.
With each new Weird Wednesday post I find it increasingly unbelievable what people of the world are willing to eat and/or risk to allegedly enjoy these weird foods…
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