Eerie Food from Sardinia – Casu Marzu

Casu Marzu is eerie, very, very eerie. It’s a pungent cheese made from sheep milk and is left outside, uncovered, to rot. Tiny cheese flies infest the cheesy block and lay their off-spring, billions of small transparent maggots. The larvae feed on the cheese, thus causing fermentation and allowing the casu marzu to fully decompose into an eerie, stinky, creamy and highly sought after delicacy from the mountains of Sardinia. The moment I saw the sign above the door I knew what I had to do. 

Jennifer Avventura My Sardinian Life Mamoiada

Hasu Martzu – Casu Marzu – Rotten Cheese at Mamoiada

In the six years that I’ve lived in Sardinia, I’d only ever heard tales of Casu Marzu. I had never seen it – that is until I went to Mamoiada and found a house full of the pungent cheese. The line-up to get in was astonishing long and I had no patience to wait so I politely pushed my way to the front of the line.

I did bust out my Italian skills and asked each elder as I passed “Mi scusi. Io non voglio comprare il formaggio, vorrei fare una foto. Posso andare avanti a Lei?” They all looked at me and knew I wasn’t Italian, smiled and allowed the crazy-smiling-Canuck to go on. “Molto gentile Lei, grazie e buonagiornata.”

CASU MARZU

Casu Marzu by Jennifer Avventura My Sardinian Life

For many years casu marzu was on the European Union’s banned food list, and offenders faced heavy fines if caught producing the cheese. However, it was still available on the black market where it could sell triple the price of a regular wheel of pecorino cheese.

Today, the ban on producing casu marzu was bypassed, thanks to the researchers at the University of Sassari and a large group of farmers who developed a hygienic way to produce the cheese, and noted a way around the ban when they learned, if an item of food has been produced for more than 25 years, the food item is automatically declared a ‘traditional’ food and is exempt from the banned food list.

Casu Marzu by Jennifer Avventura My Sardinian Life (2)

By the time I arrived at the casu marzu house it was finished. I didn’t see any jumping maggots but the smell inside those walls was sharp, peppery and eerie.

This is my response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie

Have you tired casu marzu? Would you try it?

Related articles:

Casu Marzu: World’s Most Dangerous Cheese
Casu Marzu – Wikipedia
Sardinia and its illegal cheese – Under the Tuscan Gun

  • © My Sardinian Life/Jennifer Avventura. All rights reserved 2010-2013. All pictures, unless otherwise stated, are property of My Sardinian Life. Do not use without written permission.

About Jennifer Avventura

Canadian Freelance writer living in Sardinia, Italy. A serial expat who has lived in Australia, England and Cayman Islands. She eats Nutella with a spoon and hides under the bed during lightning storms. When she's not out running 6k you will find her sitting at the computer - writing her novel and searching for worldwide waitress work.
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29 Responses to Eerie Food from Sardinia – Casu Marzu

  1. Keren says:

    Ah, what a great story about the famous maggot cheese! I personally have never tried it and I don’t think I will … but … never say never!!

  2. adinparadise says:

    So you didn’t get to taste it? I think the photos would be quite enough for me. 🙂

  3. I’d never even heard of this… how can that be?!
    Not sure I’d try it… but great food for post 🙂

    • Thank you. It’s been a little secret of Sardinia for many years.

      • WTH says:

        I’m sorry, but EVERY Italian knows about casu marzu, and even I as an American child of parents stationed in Palau/Santa Stefano had not only hard about it but actually tried it (with an ungodly bad glass of wine that made Cannoneau tastes like Crytal Rose!)

        When I was last there in 2000, it was trivially easy to obtain. Simply ask someone at a restaurant if they know of any and they’ll point you towards a farm that will hook you up.

        It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds and if you ‘ve got some wine to go along with it, it can be an extraordinary (in the good way) experience.

  4. l says:

    I JUST saw an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and he was in Sardinia eating that cheese, lol! My dad LOVES that stuff…would you believe that when I went to visit family with my brother (over 15 years ago) he actually made us bring home a BACKPACK full of cheese…and that one was in it?! Do I need to tell you how bad “we” smelt?! lol!!!!!

    • I JUST saw an episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern and he was in Sardinia eating that cheese, lol! My dad LOVES that stuff…would you believe that when I went to visit family with my brother (over 15 years ago) he actually made us bring home a BACKPACK full of cheese…and that one was in it?! Do I need to tell you how bad “we” smelt?! lol!!!!!

  5. colonialist says:

    I must admit I prefer my food not to have been predigested by maggots or, indeed, to contain any of those creatures …

  6. Anna says:

    I would absolutely try it, but I wish I didnt just read about how it is [used to be?] made 🙂

    • Oh, the maggots are still there … you can count on that! It’s wouldn’t be casu marzu without the larvae!

      • Anna says:

        Eww. Eww, eww, eww. See, ignorance IS bliss.

      • haha. Don’t I know it!

      • WTH says:

        Personally, I’ve run into a Corsican cheese that makes Casu Marzu look positively tame from a ‘maggot counting’ point of view; however, the wonder of Casu Marzu is that the, shall we say, ‘excretions’ of the maggots is what makes it special.

        BTW, in ‘Asterix and the Corsicans’ there’s an example of a Corsican cheese like I’m referring to. I don’t recall the name of it, but I had a little with some Sardinian made Mirto (a little differnet from Corsican.) THAT was scary cheese. Little larva crawling EVERYWHERE.

  7. Eating or lets say tasting casu marzu or hasu marzu (the h is pronounced making a noise from the back of your mouth a bit like the french do) is really putting your mettle to the test. It is a challenge between you and the line up of your ancestors back to cro-magnon and beyond against evolution. If you survive, it means that you will be privileged to pass on your DNA to the future generations. So you just have to grin and bear it, swallow it down with courage and a splash of Cannonou and you can be confident that you are going to be stronger (or get extinct).Our existence is a daily challenge and this one is just a shade closer to the survival category of challenges and not just a puny artificial charade that one may encounter on the office floor – this is the real thing 🙂 . It also happens to be a quaint confirmation that we have something in common with the Australian aborigines a.k.a. “The Aussies” judging by their ancestral call for lunch: “Grubs up!!”

    • WTH says:

      Regarding the Cannonou (I forgot how to spell that), too true! I think with a bottle of that I could even find Hakarl palatable! It’s not good wine, but it’s certainly good for obliterating the taste of whatever you’re eating.

      The next time you’re in Sardinia, make sure you get the Bottarga (make sure it is Sardinian and grey mullet) and you’ll be happy. Amazing. Every trip to Sardenga requires Casu Marzu, Bottarga, some random HORRENDOUS resin based wine, and a perfect plate of Risotto al nero di Seppia (spelling?) Oh, and a long night at Mama Tiana’s in Arzachena.

      Sardinia is the most beautiful place in the world. If you’ve only seen mainland Italy, you really must visit Sicily and more importantly, Sardenga (Sardinia.)

  8. Paul Corda says:

    I remember when as a kid I used to eat “casu marzu” and loved it, but you put “Gorgonzola” (blue cheese) in front of me and I would gag. I guess to each his own. You should try it, it’s actually very tasty spread on “pane carasau” and with strong local red wine. Let me know how it works out ( I can picture your face right now, hahaha).

  9. Rosemarie Kleinberg says:

    Jennifer

    My father would make this when we were growing up in Connecticut, disgusting! The look the smell! Ultimate gross, but he and his friends loved it! I have never had the courage to try it. When we visited my first cousins in Anela, I mentioned that without any insult please don’t offer this to me for I know they had it and the previous year offered it to my nephew who almost lost his stomach. My father use to say Americans would be so much healthier if they ate all of the protein that those little maggots provided! I will still pass! It is really quite interesting though! Have a great week!
    Love,
    Rosemarie
    The Sard/American

  10. I can practically smell it through the blog!

  11. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie Tomb | Processing the life

  12. John Gayton says:

    I’d definitely have a taste Jenny. I doubt that I’d be too popular on the flight home if I decided to buy some though, seeing as I only travel with cabin baggage these days.

  13. John says:

    I’ve been here before Jenny. You’re a delight to read 🙂

  14. sardegnatrekking says:

    Posso assicurarvi che è buonissimo!!!!

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