Saturday, January 13, 2007

Really, It's Gourmet - Casu Marzu

It’s time again for another installment of “Really, It’s Gourmet”. Where we look at some of the delicacies other regions of the world hold in high regard. While here in America we have been able to embrace the caviars and fois gras, some of the worlds gourmet foods just don’t seem to stick. One such delicacy is Casu Marzu.

While we might stick our noses up at it, the people of the Sardinian region of Italy hold this treat in high regards. In fact there is a large network of underground or black market sales that go on in Sardinia since Casu Marzu or worm cheese is illegal.

That’s right Casu Marzu, as it is known in Italy, is nothing short of Pecorino that has been aged in the open air and allowed flies to lay eggs within, thus resulting in thousands of fly larvae (maggots) to infest the cheese. The enzymes produced by the feeding maggots aids in the fermentation of the cheese, in fact causing the milk fat to decompose and a soft pungent interior to form. This product can cause burning to the esophagus and stomach and has even been known to cause hallucinogenic effects. The maggots are eaten directly with the cheese, and are typically consumed with Sardinian bread (pane carasau) and Cannonau, a strong red wine. However, they'll not have any confusion that they eat bugs for the fun of it... it's all about the cheese. In fact, any Casu Marzu not sporting these creepy crawlies is considered "no good". Heck, if the bugs won’t even eat it... how good could it be?

Italian health officials don’t agree with the Sardinians in their practice of eating worm cheese, and it is forbidden to sell. Several food safety issues have been raised with Casu Marzu:

  • Anecdotal reports of allergic reactions.
  • A risk of the decomposition advancing to a toxic state. (Folk wisdom in Sardinia holds that still-living larvae are an assurance that this has not yet happened.)
  • Risk of intestinal larval infection. Piophila casei larvae can pass through the stomach alive (human stomach acids do not usually kill them) and take up residency for some period of time in the intestines, where they can cause serious lesions as they attempt to bore through the intestinal walls. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, pain in the abdomen, and bloody diarrhea.

Because of these health threats, or simply because it is considered a contaminated product, casu marzu cheese cannot be legally sold in Italy. Within Sardinia, enforcement of the ban is sporadic and the cheese is available as a black market item, selling for about three times pecorino's price.

That doesn't stop the fine people of Sardina from making their own home-made delight. Just like momma used to make?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, Italians name their food after all kinds of disgusting things. For example, vermicelli means 'little worms'. They really are a disgusting group of people, I don't trust them, and I wonder why they all want to become city Mayors all over the United States!