Casu Marzu 0 Comments

Casu Marzu

In Sardinia it has been eaten for centuries. Exactly since a wheel of pecorino cheese was accidentally used by a fly to lay its eggs. Thanks to the curiosity of that shepherd who tried to taste that cheese, we are here today to talk about it.

Casu Marzu, literally "rotten cheese" in Sardinian dialect, is a pecorino cheese colonized by the larvae of flies, produced for centuries by Sardinian shepherds. To produce it, the cheese must be relatively young with the first rind. Leaving the cheese wheels in a dark and ventilated environment, cuts are made on the rind’s surface - or the form is "uncapped" - to ease the access to insects.

Piophila casei (the dairy fly) finds the cut and lays its eggs there. It has very little time to do this because it has a very short cycle life and will die soon after laying. The larvae draw nourishment inside the wheel and dig long tunnels in the cheese, giving their enzymes to the cheese. Once mature, the cheese is a compound of homogeneous yellowish cream. 

But be careful, because this cheese ended up on CNN in a report entitled "The most dangerous cheese in the world", after which in 2009 it was officially sanctioned by the Guinness Book of Records.

In fact, there are those who argue that the worms could survive mastication and cause damage to the intestine, although the Sardinians say that there is no case documenting this eventuality. Giovanni Fancello, Sardinian journalist, writer and gastronome, added:We have always eaten worms. Pliny the Elder and Aristotle also spoke about it.

The production and marketing of Casu Marzu has already been prohibited by Italian and European regulations for years, with the art. 5 of law 283/1962. The fine for those who sell Casu Marzu can reach up to 50,000 euros.

In 2005, in order to proceed towards the legalisation of Casu Marzu, some Sardinian dairy producers, in teamwork with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Sassari, commissioned the Institute of Agricultural Entomology of Sassari to carry out a laboratory breeding of Piophila casei, in order to demonstrate that the process can also take place in a controlled method, and therefore legally produce this cheese with adequate hygienic guarantees. Researchers, and not only them, now trust that the EU will pronounce in favour of the Casu Marzu legalisation.

While EU technical standards prohibit its selling, at the same time Casu Marzu falls within the Traditional Italian Agri-Food Products, which creates a legal limbo. The Sardinia Region, to protect this product has now asked the EU for the PDO classification to have the Protected Designation of Origin of "Casu Martzu" safeguarding it from food piracy.

Recently, with the opening of the EU in January 2023 to entomophagy, of which we talked about in the article "What Did The Nuragic Eat?" a parliamentary enquiry was processed asking the competent ministry to undertake initiatives also at a European level to allow the production and marketing of Casu Marzu, using more modern and hygienic criteria and standards.

I confess: I tasted Casu Marzu. I did it to write the blog and out of curiosity to understand what I'm writing about. Obviously not being able to find it on the table of the Gabbiano Azzurro Hotel & Suites, for obvious reasons of permits denied by law, I managed to find it by contacting the cousin of the brother-in-law of the relative of... well, it has an intense flavour  both spicy and with reminiscences of Mediterranean pastures. I admit that I drank a wonderful Cannonau glass afterwards, otherwise the savour would have perhaps lasted for long.

“There was a table set, with a basket filled with that characteristic Sardinian bread called “carta di musica” and a whole rotten cheese, from a hole of which small white worms that seemed very cheerful and mischievous hopped away…” (Grazia Deledda - Edera)


Written by Daniela Toti

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