There are certainly so many choices when it comes to cheese. This is why many people are inspired to create a cheese platter when there are special events because you can always make a unique one every time. Some of the most popular cheeses out there are Parmesan, cheddar, brie, Roquefort, gruyere, feta, mozzarella, and more. All of these have their own unique flavors and can be paired with different foods, too. If you love cheese, have you ever heard about the world’s most dangerous cheese?
Sardinia is located in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea, which gazes at Italy from a distance. It is surrounded by white sandy beaches and emerald waters, and its inland landscape rises to form hills and mountains. Within these edgy curves is where the shepherds make the Casu Marzu cheese, which is known to be the most dangerous cheese, as proclaimed by the Guinness World Record in 2009. Why? It’s because this cheese is infested by maggots, making it known as the worm cheese. If you are curious, read on to know more about it.
What is the Casu Marzu Cheese?
Casu Marzu is also known as casu martzu, casu mode, or casu cundidu. It is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese that has live insect larvae or maggots. It is made by leaving whole pecorino cheeses outside with part of its rind removed to enable the eggs of the cheese fly, called Piophila casei, to be laid in the cheese. This cheese fly can lay more than 500 eggs at one time. These eggs will then hatch, and the larvae will start to eat through the cheese.
The acid from the digestive system of the maggots breaks down the fats of the cheese, making it very soft. When the cheese is ready for consumption, it would typically contain thousands of these maggots.
Consumption of Casu Marzu Cheese
According to Sardinian aficionados, it is unsafe to eat Casu Marzu cheese when the maggots in it have died. Due to this, only those cheeses in which the maggots are alive are usually eaten. Allowances are also made for cheese that has been refrigerated, which results in the maggots dying. When Casu Marzu cheese has fermented enough, it is usually cut into thin strips then spread on a moistened Sardinian flatbread called pane carasau. It is also served with strong red wine, usually, cannonau, which is made of Grenache grapes.
The Sardinians believe Casu Marzu cheese to be an aphrodisiac. Also, the larvae in the cheese are able to launch up to 6 inches when they are disturbed. With this, those who eat the cheese hold their hands above it to prevent the maggots from leaping. There are some who do not want to ingest the maggots. What they do is place the cheese in a sealed paper bag. When the maggots are starved for oxygen, they will jump in the bag and make a pitter-patter sound. You will know when they are dead when the sound subsides and the cheese is ready to be eaten.
Casu Marzu is Dangerous to Health
Based on food scientists, larvae can survive the stomach acid and remain in the intestine, which might lead to a condition called pseudo myiasis. Due to the food hygiene-health regulations of the European Union, Casu Marzu cheese has been banned, and offenders may face heavy fines, as the side effects of the cheese might be risky to those who would eat it.
However, some Sardinians organized themselves and sell them on the black market. This cheese is sold for double the price of an ordinary block of pecorino cheese. Since 2019, the illegal production of this cheese has been recorded about 100 tones per year, which is worth 2 to 3 million Euros.
There were attempts that have been made to circumvent the Italian and European ban by having the cheese declared as traditional food. It has actually been made in the same manner for over 25 years and is exempt from ordinary food hygiene regulations. However, Casu Marzu is one of the kinds of cheeses that are banned in the United States. In 2005, there has been cooperation between sheep farmers and researchers of the University of Sassari to develop a hygienic method of production. They aim to allow the legal selling of Casu Marzu.
Casu Marzu is indeed one of the most bizarre cheeses in the world. It is dangerous, illegal, and might also be a bit gross if you are on the uncultured side of things. For some, it might be the worst cheese. But we should also respect and understand that for the Sardinians, it is an aphrodisiac and part of their culture. It is something that they enjoy at weddings and other celebrations. What do you think about Casu Marzu cheese?