Warning: This post is about really gross food, so if you don't have a strong stomach, you may want to skip it.
Casu Marzu (a.k.a. maggot cheese), Sardinia, Italy
I’ve heard about this cheese twice in the past couple of weeks, once on NPR when they were interviewing a scientist in search of the world’s weirdest food, and again on a “disgusting things that people eat” TV show. Seeing the cheese in its maggot popping glory turned my stomach but strangely led me to the internet to gather more information.
Instead of regular cheese, which goes through a fermentation process for flavor, Casu Marzu is more a product of decomposition. The cheese goes through this process by the use of cheese fly larvae that eat the cheese and then secret the waste, making the cheese “softer and more flavorful.”
One of the hazards of eating Casu Marzu is the larvae, which can jump up to 15cm when disturbed. Consumers may be disturbed by the fact that their cheese is jumping and making a crackling sound. Often, connoisseurs refrigerate the cheese for hours before consumption so the larvae can become placid and less, well, jumpy.
There is another danger with eating the cheese. Human stomach acids cannot kill the larvae, so often the larvae remain in the digestive-tract, boring into the walls and causing intestinal lesions. It is no wonder that its home region of Sardinia banned it. Still the allure and rarity of the cheese has food-adventurers searching for black market varieties.
Kopi Luwak: The most expensive coffee in the world. Indonesia
Kopi means coffee in Indonesian. Luwak means civet, which is a small weasel-like creature. The reason this coffee bears the name of an Asian ferret is that the mammal is an important part of the manufacturing process. The animal eats the raw coffee beans, but only the soft outer part. According to one source, the digestive “juices” of the civet provide the coffee with a “unique” flavor. The process removes bitterness.
Kopi Luwak is rare, costing up to $600 a pound and $50 a cup. The quantities are much smaller than a regular cup of coffee and are served more like espresso. Looking to buy some of this? Talk to the Japanese, apparently they have cornered the market.
Taste testing conducted at Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee in London elicited smiles and compliments from one taster, until she found out how the coffee was made. She reportedly made a hurried exit. Others called the flavor “chocolaty with undertones of molasses and tobacco.”
Postscript: I found a photo of Kopi Luwak in its raw form, but it looked so disgusting that I spared any unfortunate web-surfers from it.
Addendum: I've got to hand it to the civet and the cheese-fly larvae, they really have us humans eating shit.