Casu Marzu cheese, "maggot cheese" is a traditional cheese that has gained notoriety for its unusual production process which involves the use of live cheese flies and distinctive flavor. This article will explore the history, production, and controversies surrounding this unique cheese.
In 2009, the Guinness World Record proclaimed it the world’s most dangerous cheese. The cheese is banned from commercial sale due to health concerns associated with it. Some experts say that it could be dangerous for human health as maggots could survive the bite and create myiasis, micro-perforations in the intestine
Origins of Casu Marzu Cheese
The first record of Casu Marzu was traced to 1909 when Dr. Vittorio Agnetti compiled a recipe book on Casu Marzu. However, the history of Casu Marzu can only be traced to the ancient pastoral communities of Sardinia. In the past, Sardinian shepherds would make cheese from sheep's milk and store it in caves to age. Over time, they discovered that the cheese would attract cheese flies, which would lay their eggs on it. The hatched larvae would then eat the cheese, causing it to ferment and develop a unique flavor.
Giovanni Fancello, a 77-year-old Sardinian journalist and gastronome traced it back to a time when Sardinia was a province of the Roman empire. “Latin was our language, and it’s in our dialect that we find traces of our archaic cuisine. The cheese can only be produced at certain times of year when the sheeps' milk is right. The cheese can only be produced at certain times of year when the sheeps' milk is right.
There is no written record of Sardinian recipes until 1909. That’s when Vittorio Agnetti, a doctor from mainland Modena, traveled to Sardinia and compiled six recipes in a book called “La nuova cucina delle specialità regionali.”
Production of Casu Marzu Cheese
The production of Casu Marzu cheese is a complex process that involves the use of live cheese flies.
A female Piophila casei can lay more than five hundred eggs at one time. The eggs hatch and the larvae begin to eat through the cheese. The acid from the maggots' digestive system breaks down the cheese's fats, making the texture of the cheese very soft; by the time it is ready for consumption, a typical casu marzu will contain thousands of these maggots.
There have been variants of the cheese in France called "casgiu merzu". Have you ever wondered what the difference is between French and Italian cuisine? In this article, we will explore the key differences between French and Italian cuisine.
Flavor and Culinary Uses of Casu Marzu Cheese
Casu Marzu cheese has a unique flavor and texture that makes it a popular ingredient in traditional Sardinian dishes. So, what does Casu Marzu cheese taste like?
Paolo Solinas, a 29-year-old Sardinian gastronome said to CNN “The maggot infestation is the spell and delight of this cheese. Some shepherds see the cheese as a unique personal pleasure, something that just a few elects can try.”
Casu Marzu cheese has a pungent aroma and a soft texture. The flavor is strong and distinct, with a slightly sweet and nutty taste.
- The flavor is described as sharp, pungent, and highly aromatic, with notes of ammonia and nuts.
- Some people also describe it as creamy and rich, with a texture similar to that of soft cheese.
- After fermenting for a sufficient amount of time, Casu Marzu cheese is typically sliced into thin strips and paired with a moistened Sardinian flatbread called pane carasau. This traditional delicacy is often enjoyed with a robust red wine such as cannonau.
The Controversies Surrounding Casu Marzu Cheese
The production process of Casu Marzu cheese has led to several controversies.
- The cheese is banned in Italy in 1962, banned in the European Union in 2002, and the United States due to safety concerns, and it is only available in Sardinia black market.
- Additionally, the use of live cheese flies in the production process has led to ethical concerns among animal rights activists.
- The larvae in Casu Marzu can jump up to six inches when disturbed, making it a risky food to eat for some people.
- Casu Marzu has been featured in several food shows, such as Andrew Zimmern's "Bizarre Foods," and Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations."
- The larvae in Casu Marzu are believed to have medicinal properties (as aphrodite) and have been used in traditional Sardinian medicine for centuries.
Many experts criticize Casu Marzu for its potential health risks. The consumption of live maggots poses a risk of infection or allergic reactions even though there were no known cases of issues in eating it.
Roberto Flore, the Sardinian head of Skylab FoodLab, said “I believe that nobody has ever died eating casu marzu. If they did, maybe they were drunk. You know, when you eat it, you also drink lots of wine.”
Additionally, some experts raise ethical concerns about the use of live cheese flies in the production process, as it involves the intentional infestation of food with insects. The use of live flies is also criticized for being a cruel and inhumane practice.
Besides Casu Marzu, have you ever wondered why Italian food is so popular around the world? Italian cuisine is more than just food; it's a reflection of the country's history, traditions, and lifestyle. The ingredients used in Italian dishes are locally sourced, and the recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, preserving authentic flavors and techniques. In this article, we'll explore the unique aspects of Italian food that make it so special and loved by many.