Casu Marzu – The Cheese is Alive!

Casu Marzu Maggot Cheese

Casu Marzu Maggot Cheese

If you are a foodie who is willing to try anything, let me introduce you to Casu Marzu.  Casu Marzu is a one of a kind cheese that is from Sardinia, Italy.  In Sardinian, Casu Marzu means “rotten cheese.”  But this cheese is not simply rotten, it is alive!  This sheep’s milk cheese is literally crawling with thousands of living maggots.  Believe it or not, this is the truth.  It has been banned  in Italy and the EU and it is illegal to sell it.  Here is a little more information about Casu Marzu.

Making Casu Marzu

Casu Marzu is made from Pecorino Sardo cheese, which is then treated with a brine soak, and is then smoked.  After the smoking process is over, it is left outside with no covering at all.  This then attracts cheese files that come and lay their eggs in the cheese – hence the maggots.  Once the eggs have hatched, the maggots are the catalysts for a fermentation process.  When they eat the cheese, they give off enzymes that cause the cheese to ripen and decompose.  Some cheese makers even place maggots into the cheese by hand to make the cheese ripen faster.

Sampling Casu Marzu

Casu Marzu has a soft texture, but is certainly doesn’t have a soft taste.  It has a very strong aroma, and some say that it ‘weeps’ tears, as condensation is normal in this highly fermented Italian delicacy.  Be careful when sampling Casu Marzu, as it produces a burning sensation on the tongue.  Its taste has been compared to sharp Gorgonzola, with maggots. Some people wipe away the maggots before eating Casu Marzu, while others prefer to eat the maggots.  According to many Sardinian cheese aficionados, you should only eat Casu Marzu if the maggots are still alive and squirming, because if they are dead then the cheese is toxic and may be harmful to eat.

Is Casu Marzu Illegal?

Yes, Casu Marzu is illegal in Italy and the EU.  Some people who have eaten it have had varying degrees of allergic reactions, with symptoms like burning, itching, or crawling sensations on the skin.  There is also a possible risk of larval infection of the intestinal tract.  That is because larvae are not necessarily killed during the digestion process.  However, none of that stops Sardinians from eating Casu Marzu.  Most people report no issues from eating it, and it is considered quite a delicacy, and is often a featured item at festivities and parties.  Some people will even tell you that it is an aphrodisiac!

If you wish to try Casu Marzu, you won’t be able to find it in a store.  However, it is still produced in Sardinia, so if you look hard enough you may be able to find some to sample or purchase.  However, if you intend to try Casu Marzu, it might not be a bad idea to wear a pair of sunglasses or some other type of protective eye gear while you eat it because these maggots are really, really lively and are known to jump up to half a foot up in the air directly towards your eyes.  At least close your eyes while you eat Casu Marzu just in case.  If you are brave enough to try Casu Marzu, I salute you.