I’m a massive fan of all things cheese: anyone will tell you. From bog-standard cheddar to hard wedges of manchego, even the moist crumbly goodness of blue-veined Stilton – I love them all. Spread them on a cracker with some grapes on the side, and I’m a happy, happy man.
But there are some dairy experiments that even I, a self-proclaimed horophile, would baulk at. Weird and gruesome creations formed of churned lactose and fermented curd that would make a vulture sick and a skunk invest in air freshener. A lot of these inventions are accidental, the result of a lump of Gorgonzola left to grow mould in the back of a refrigerator, slowly congealing to a kind of primordial soup of bacteria.
But this Sardinian abomination is the daddy of them all, a twisted, ungodly result of unfettered cheese science. This is what happens when cheese turns not just bad, but downright evil. Make sure you have a bucket to hand before you read on.
This is a wheel of “casu marzu” – a Sardinian term which literally means “rotten/putrid cheese.” Hey, at least they’re giving us fair warning right?
Even in its home country it’s considered something of an acquired taste. You’ll soon learn why. The cheese-mongering process starts off fairly normally to begin with, as an ordinary cylinder of pecorino, or sheep’s milk cheese. However, and I’m seriously not making this up, the top of the cheese is then sliced clean off, and left exposed to the elements.
After it has gone suitably soft and rancid, fly eggs of the genus Piophila casei, (also known as the Cheese Fly) are introduced to the wheel in abundance, where they lay their eggs in the ripe curd. In time of course, these eggs will hatch into maggots, who then munch greedily through the cheese. The acid from the maggots’ digestive system breaks down the cheese’s fats, making the texture extra soft.
Horrifyingly enough, it is at this point, when it is teeming with maggots, that the cheese is eaten. Apparently it’s poisonous if you wait for the maggots to die in the cheese. I think that if things have gone that far it’s already a bit of a moot point, don’t you?
This disgusting concoction is usually scarfed down on a bit of salted biscuit with a strong red wine. Yeah, I’d like my drink as strong as possible too after that ordeal.
Allegedly, because the larvae can launch themselves up to 15 centimetres when disturbed, diners hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping. Those who do not wish to do so 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.
At one point the cheese was so unhygienic that it was actually made illegal by the European union. Yup, it’s pretty much the grossest thing I’ve ever heard of too: and I’ve enjoyed haggis, so I know what I’m talking about. Next time you find something wriggling in your Gorgonzola, don’t chuck it out: sell it as a delicacy for a big fat profit!