Casu marzu: The world’s ‘most harmful’ cheese
(CNN) — The Italian island of Sardinia sits in the course 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 File 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 means by the paste, digesting proteins within the course of, and remodeling the product right into a comfortable creamy cheese.
Then the cheesemonger cracks open the highest — which is nearly 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 things.
Casu marzu is made with sheeps’ milk.
Sean Gallup/Getty Photos
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.
“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 strive,” Solinas provides.
It is unlawful to promote or purchase casu marzu.
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, if you’re adventurous sufficient, it is attainable 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.
The cheese can solely be produced at sure occasions of yr when the sheeps’ milk is true.
There isn’t any written file of Sardinian recipes till 1909, in accordance with Fancello. That is when Vittorio Agnetti, a physician from mainland Modena, traveled to Sardinia and compiled six recipes in a e-book known as “La nuova cucina delle specialità regionali.”
“However we now have 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 considered one-offs, casu marzu is intrinsically a part of Sardinian meals tradition.
The cheese has a number of completely different names, resembling casu becciu, casu fattittu, hasu muhidu, formaggio marcio. Every sub-region of the island has its personal means of manufacturing it utilizing completely different sorts of milk.
‘Magic and supernatural occasions’
Foodies impressed by the exploits of cooks resembling 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 probability, of magic and supernatural occasions.”
Fancello grew up within the city of Thiesi together 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 change into infested with maggots, he can 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 season warmth.
The coastal city of Alghero in Sardnina.
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP through Getty Photos
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.
“You realize when a kind will change 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 attainable. They’ve additionally found out a means to make use of glass jars to preserve the cheese, which historically by no means lasted past September, for years.
Sardinia’s uncommon cheese dates again to Roman occasions.
Although revered, the cheese’s authorized standing is a grey space.
Casu marzu is registered as a standard product of Sardinia and due to this fact is regionally protected. Nonetheless, it has been deemed unlawful by the Italian authorities since 1962 on account of 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 giggle when requested in regards to the prohibition of their beloved cheese.
“A number of cultures affiliate the insect with an ingredient,” Flore says. That stated, Sardinians want the cheese to the maggot and are sometimes horrified by the concept that individuals eat scorpions or crickets in Thailand.
Flore says he is traveled around the globe to check how completely different cultures strategy bugs as meals and believes that whereas psychological boundaries make it troublesome to radically alter consuming habits, such consumption is widespread.
Insect consumption is extra commonplace in international locations resembling Thailand.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP through Getty Photos
“How do you outline edible meals?” he says .”Each area of the world has a unique solution to eat bugs.”
He is satisfied that Sardinia’s delicacy is suitable for eating.
“I imagine that no person has ever died consuming casu marzu. In the event that they did, perhaps they had been drunk. You realize, whenever you eat it, you additionally drink a lot of wine.”
Flore hopes casu marzu will quickly shed its clandestine standing and change into an emblem 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 trendy mainstream tastes.
Islanders and researchers hope that the European Union will quickly rule of their favor.
Till then, anybody who desires to pattern it might want to ask round after they get to Sardinia.
For these keen to droop considerations about what they’re consuming, it gives an genuine expertise recalling a time when nothing was thrown away and when boundaries of what was edible or not had been much less properly outlined.
Cheesemonger Murrocu says that, fittingly, locals maintain an open thoughts about one of the simplest ways to eat casu marzu, however a couple of different regional treats have been recognized to assist it slip down simpler.
“We unfold the cheese on moist pane carasau, and we eat it,” he says. “However you possibly can eat it as you need, so long as there may be some formaggio marcio and a very good cannonau wine.”