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W.2

Would You Eat This Cheese?

In Sardinia, you may find a few hundred bugs in your cheese. And that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be.  

Before You Read: Click here for an interactive pre-reading quiz.

 

LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images

This Cheese Hasn't Gone Bad. 
It’s made with maggots inside on purpose!

    If you like cheese, Italy is the place to go. There’s Parmesan for your pasta, mozzarella for your pizza, and provolone for your salami sandwich. 

    But there’s one kind of Italian cheese that’s hard to find. It’s called casu marzu (KAH-zoo MART-zoo)—and in Italy, it’s illegal to sell it.

    Why would selling cheese be against the law? To find out, let’s visit the Italian island of Sardinia. Cheese makers there have been making casu marzu for hundreds of years. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone willing to give you a taste. 

    Sit down. Watch while your host cuts open a big wheel of creamy casu marzu. And—wait! The cheese looks like it’s alive. You look closer, and now you understand. There are hundreds of maggots squirming in the cheese.

    If you like cheese, Italy is the place to go. There’s Parmesan for your pasta, mozzarella for your pizza, and provolone for your salami sandwich. 

    But there’s one kind of Italian cheese that’s hard to find. It’s called casu marzu. And in Italy, it’s illegal to sell it.

    Why would selling cheese be against the law? To find out, let’s visit the Italian island of Sardinia. Cheese makers there have been making casu marzu for hundreds of years. Maybe someone will give you a taste.

    Sit down. Watch as your host cuts open a wheel of casu marzu. And—wait! The cheese looks like it’s alive. You look closer. Now you get it. There are maggots squirming in the cheese.

    If you enjoy cheese, Italy is the place to go. There’s Parmesan for your pasta, mozzarella for your pizza, and provolone for your salami sandwich.

    But there’s one kind of Italian cheese that’s difficult to find. It’s called casu marzu—and in Italy, it’s illegal to sell it.

    Why would selling cheese be against the law? To find out, let’s visit the Italian island of Sardinia. Cheese makers there have been making casu marzu for centuries. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone willing to give you a sample.

    Sit down and watch as your host cuts open a large wheel of creamy casu marzu. The cheese looks like it’s alive. You look closer, and now you understand. There are hundreds of maggots squirming in the cheese.

A Delicious Accident

Science Photo Library/Alamy Stock Photo; The Natural History Museum/Alamy Stock Photo

    How did bug-infested cheese become an important tradition? The first wheel of casu marzu was probably made by accident. Sheep’s milk was heated and left to harden. Maybe a door or a window was left open. As the milk turned to cheese, flies laid their eggs inside. 

    Soon the eggs hatched into maggots, and the maggots went to work. They ate the cheese and—yes—pooped it out again. The result? A rich, spreadable cheese with a really strong flavor and a name that fits. Casu marzu means “rotten cheese.”

    How did bug-filled cheese become an important tradition? The first wheel of casu marzu was probably made by accident. Sheep’s milk was heated and left to harden. Maybe a door or a window was left open. As the milk turned to cheese, flies laid eggs inside.

    The eggs hatched into maggots. The maggots ate the cheese and pooped it out. The result? A rich, spreadable cheese with a strong flavor. The name fits: Casu marzu means “rotten cheese.”

    How did bug-infested cheese become an important tradition? The first wheel of casu marzu was probably created by accident. Sheep’s milk was heated and left to harden, and maybe a door or a window was left open. As the milk turned into cheese, flies laid their eggs inside.

    Soon the eggs hatched into maggots, which ate the cheese and pooped it out again. The result: a rich, spreadable cheese with an intense flavor and a very suitable name. Casu marzu 

Bugs for Breakfast?

Jim McMahon/Mapman ®

    Today, Sardinian cheese makers are proud of their casu marzu. They leave the milk out on purpose to attract flies. Cheese makers are allowed to make the cheese and share it with friends. But insects can carry germs, so food safety laws ban the sale of casu marzu.

    Many Sardinians want those laws to change. They say no one has gotten sick from casu marzu. And they point out that for many people, eating insects is normal. Nearly one-third of the world’s population eats bugs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Ants are steamed or dried in the sun. Crickets are ground into flour for bread. Caterpillars are fried into a crunchy, delicious snack. 

    Prepared with a little loving care, many insects can be pretty tasty. So should we really worry about a few maggots in our cheese? 

    Today, Sardinian cheese makers are proud of their casu marzu. They leave the milk out on purpose to attract flies. Cheese makers are allowed to make the cheese and share it with friends. But insects can carry germs, so food safety laws ban the sale of casu marzu.

    Many Sardinians want those laws to change. They say no one has gotten sick from casu marzu. And they point out that many people eat insects. Nearly one-third of the world’s people eat bugs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Ants are steamed or dried in the sun. Crickets are ground into flour for bread. Caterpillars are fried into a crunchy snack.

    Prepared with care, many insects can be tasty. So should we really worry about a few maggots in our cheese? 

    Today, Sardinian cheese makers are proud of their casu marzu. They leave the milk out intentionally to attract flies. Cheese makers are allowed to make the cheese and share it with friends—but insects can carry germs, so food safety laws ban the sale of casu marzu.

    Many Sardinians want those laws to change. They say no one has gotten sick from casu marzu. They also point out that for many people, eating insects is perfectly normal. Nearly one-third of the world’s population eats bugs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Ants are steamed or dried in the sun. Crickets are ground into flour for bread. Caterpillars are fried into a crunchy snack.

    Prepared with a little loving care, many types of insects can be pretty tasty. So should we really be concerned about a few maggots in our cheese? 

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