Italy might be the ideal place for someone looking for a food adventure, but a mouthful of cheese with a maggot or two might take the fun out of it. Yes, we are talking about Italy’s casu marzu or rotten cheese, a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese that houses live maggots in it and is supposedly a delicacy. Enough to turn your stomach?
Known to originate in times of poverty when shepherds had no choice but to eat cheese even if it was rotting, it eventually culminated into a delicacy and is now considered a part of Sardinia’s rich food heritage. Because of health implications and strict safety standards of the European Union, this cheese is banned in Europe. However, it is still available on the black market and often consumed at weddings because of its aphrodisiac properties.
It takes a couple of months to prepare, or in this case, rot the cheese. The crust of the traditional pecorino cheese is first cut off, then a hole is drilled into it to invite flies to lay their eggs. After that, the cheese is left in the dark for almost three months, to leave room for the maggots to grow. As the maggots eat the cheese and it passes through their bodies, the excretions give the cheese its distinct creamy flavour and spreadable texture.
It is generally eaten when the maggots are still alive and squirming. However, it comes with a caution – the maggots need to be killed in the mouth by chewing the cheese properly. Otherwise, it’s possible that the larvae could pass through the stomach without dying, which may cause serious intestinal problems. The maggots, because they are alive, may also jump to quite a height and fly into a person’s eyes, causing damage. It would only be logical to wonder at this point why a cheese with dead maggots in it isn’t preferred to a cheese with live maggots. That’s because a casu marzu with dead maggots in it means the cheese has gone bad (or has actually “rotten”).
The introduction of flies and the growing of larvae in it makes the cheese rich in ammonia which can leave a stinging sensation in the mouth and an aftertaste that refuses to leave for hours.