Wednesday, September 5, 2007

For Your Next Dinner Party...

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.

56 comments:

Danny said...

Thank you for the education, now please pass the barf bag! Good lord, my first instinct is that anyone who willingly eats fly larvae deserves what he gets, but I guess some of our own cultural tastes would gross out people who aren't used to them. Still...maggot-popping cheese?!

Emily Barton said...

All right, when I come to visit and sit out on your patio, please don't serve me anything with jumping creatures in it.

Froshty said...

The larvae cheese reminds me of the time we filled a pot that had had macaroni and cheese in it with water, left it on the stove, and forgot about it for a couple of days. There were maggot larvae all over it. I guess if we had been Sardinians, we'd have jumped for joy. Instead, we tried not to throw up as we poured the water down the drain.

imichie said...

Danny, I wondered if this was to gross to post, but I heard about it on NPR so that gave the green-light.

Emily, I can't afford any of these things even if I wanted to try them. The maggot cheese is difficult to locate, and the coffee is, well, you read the price.

Froshty, I'm not willing to experiment with larvae recipes just yet, but if I do, the larvae mac-and-cheese could be a start.

Sarah said...

Oh my. And I can't even handle unopened yogurt that's only a day past its expiration date!

imichie said...

yes Sarah, I don't know how those Sardinians do it. I'm becoming more sensitive to un-freshness, especially dairy. I don't think I could even be in the same room with this cheese.

Jeremiah Paddock said...

I think I might be willing to try the coffee, but the cheese is definitely out! I don't know if you have read the book Salt by Mark Kurlansky, but if not i highly recommend it. You might enjoy its grossness.

imichie said...

Yea, I think I've heard of that book Jeremy and I'll seek it out. Thanks

healingmagichands said...

Now I really honestly cannot understand why someone would want to eat something that could cause intestinal lesions. I love cheese, but I draw the line at limburger, and if it had live fly larvae jumping around in it I'm afraid I'd be rather put off. To say the least.

archie FCD said...

I am a "tasty" chese eater. Danish Blue and Stilton are favourites (They go well with a good port) but I think cheese which is still alive could be a problem. I have been collecting information on the civet coffee for a post of my own. Now I may look for any other gross foods I can find. This could be a "fun" posting.

imichie said...

HMH, I can't eat limburger either, well, maybe a little, but there is no way I could eat this cheese. Bugs are are bad enough on the outside of the body.

Archie, I love Danish Blue and Saga. That civet coffee is in your neck of the woods so maybe you can sample some and let us know what it does to you.

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