Casu marzu

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Casu marzu
Country of origin Italy
Region, town Sardinia
Source of milk Sheep
Pasteurised No
Texture Soft
Aging time 3 Months
Certification none

Casu marzu (also called casu modde, casu cundhídu, or in Italian formaggio marcio) is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese, notable for being riddled with live insect larvae. Although outlawed there for health reasons, it is found mainly in Sardinia, Italy on the black market. Casu marzu literally means "rotten cheese" in Sardinian and is known colloquially as maggot cheese.

Derived from Pecorino, Casu marzu goes beyond typical fermentation to a stage most would consider decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly Piophila casei. These larvae are deliberately introduced to the cheese, promoting an advanced level of fermentation and breaking down of the cheese's fats. The texture of the cheese becomes very soft, with some liquid (called lagrima, from the Sardinian for "tears") seeping out. The larvae themselves appear as translucent white worms, about 8 millimetres (0.3 in) long.[1] When disturbed, the larvae can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimetres (6 in). Some people clear the larvae from the cheese before consuming; others do not.

The Washington Post included a Wall Street Journal article[2] on casu marzu as one the "weirdest news" stories of 2000.[3]


[edit] Fermentation

Casu marzu is created by leaving large pieces of Pecorino cheese outside and letting it ferment.[4] During the fermentation process, the eggs of the cheese skipper Piophila casei are either intentionally introduced to the cheese, or a female Piophila casei lays her eggs in the cheese, sometimes exceeding five hundred eggs at one time.[5][1] The eggs hatch and the larvae begin to eat through the cheese.[6] The acid from the maggots' digestive system breaks down the cheese's fats,[6] making the texture of the cheese very soft, as described. By the time it is ready for consumption, a typical Casu marzu will contain thousands of these maggots.[4]

[edit] Consumption

Casu marzu is considered toxic when the maggots in the cheese have died. Because of this, only cheese in which the maggots are still alive is eaten. When the cheese has fermented enough, it is cut into thin strips and spread on moistened Sardinian flatbread (pane carasau), to be served with a strong red wine.[6][7] Casu marzu is believed to be an aphrodisiac by local Sardinians.[2] Because the larvae in the cheese can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimetres (6 in) when disturbed,[1][8] diners hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping into their eyes.[4] Those who do not wish to eat live maggots place the cheese in a sealed paper bag. The maggots, starved for oxygen, writhe and jump in the bag, creating a "pitter-patter" sound. When the sounds subside, the maggots are dead and the cheese can be eaten.[9]

[edit] Dangers

Several food safety issues have been raised in relation to Casu marzu, including anecdotal reports of allergic reactions and the danger of consuming cheese that has advanced to a toxic state. In addition, there is some risk of enteric myaisis, or intestinal larval infection. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and bloody diarrhea.[10] Piophila casei larvae are very resistant to human stomach acid and can pass through the stomach alive, taking up residency for some period of time in the intestines and causing stomach lesions and other gastrointestinal problems.[11][12] The larvae have powerful mouthhooks which can lacerate stomach linings or intestinal walls as the maggots attempt to bore through internal organs.[1]

The government of Sardinia has outlawed the cheese for health reasons, and offenders may face heavy fines.[9] However, it is possible to get Casu marzu on the black market, where it can sell for double the price of a regular block of Pecorino.[2]

[edit] Other regional variations

There are several other regional varieties of cheese with fly larvae in Europe. The most similar is found in Piemonte, Italy, where the fermentation procedure is not always analogous to that of the Casu marzu. For example, goat-milk cheese is left to the open air until Piophila casei larvae are naturally laid in the cheese.[6] Then it is aged in white wine, grapes, and honey, preventing the larvae from emerging, giving the cheese a strong flavor.[citation needed] In addition, other regions in Europe have traditional cheeses that rely on live arthropods for aging and flavoring, such as the German Milbenkäse and French mimolette, both of which rely on cheese mites.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d Berenbaum, May R (1993). Ninety-Nine More Maggots, Mites, and Munchers. University of Illinois Press. pp. 10–14. ISBN 0252063228. 
  2. ^ a b c Trofimov, Yaroslav (23 October 2000). "As a Cheese Turns, So Turns This Tale Of Many a Maggot --- Crawling With Worms and Illicit, Sardinia's Ripe Pecorinos Fly In the Face of Edible Reason". Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition) 236 (37): A1. ISSN 00999660. 
  3. ^ Shepherd, Chuck (24 December 2000). "A Look At ... The Year's Weirdest News". The Washington Post: p. B03.  In the section "Real Men Eat Cheese"
  4. ^ a b c Hegarty, Shane (1 April 2006). "Maggots, songbirds and other acquired tastes". The Irish Times: p. 12. 
  5. ^ Stephens, Andrew (30 August 2008). "Top five ... challenging foods; eat, drink, cook ... and be merry". The Age: p. A2.  Under "Casu marzu"
  6. ^ a b c d Overstreet, Robin M (December 2003). "Presidential Address: Flavor Buds and Other Delights". Journal of Parasitology (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: American Society of Parasitologists) 89 (6): 1093–1107. doi:10.1645/GE-236. PMID 14740894.  Under the "Botflies and other insects" section.
  7. ^ Loomis, Susan Herrmann (May 2002). "Sardinia, Italy". Bon Appétit. Retrieved on 8 October 2008. 
  8. ^ Bethune, Brian (16 October 2006). "The back pages: Taste: : Mmmm... do I smell armadillo?: Fierce food tips: avoid boodog (it has bubonic plague fleas), but try the fried manguey worms". Maclean's. "The agile maggots offer an additional frisson: they can bend themselves so tightly that, when they let go, the force unleashed propels them six inches or more.". 
  9. ^ a b Frauenfelder, Mark (2005). "Most Rotten Cheese". The World's Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept, and Dangerous People, Places, and Things on Earth. Chronicle Books. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0-811-84606-7. 
  10. ^ Aluja, Martin and Norrbom, Allen (1999). Fruit Flies (Tephritidae). CRC Press. ISBN 0-8493-1275-2.  p. 32
  11. ^ Prendergast, Brian F.; Rosales, Armando L.; Evans, Edward S. (2001). "Filth Flies: Significance, Surveillance and Control in Contingency Operations" (PDF). Armed Forces Pest Management Board. p. 5. Retrieved on 6 October 2008. 
  12. ^ Slatkin, Jay (19 May 2008). "Forbidden food: 8 forbidden delicacies". Retrieved on 8 October 2008. 
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