Think of the most dangerous food item you've ever heard of. Fugu, the Japanese puffer fish or Sannakji, a Korean dish of live baby octopus tentacles, come to mind. But have you heard of a cheese that is specifically decomposed till it is literally infested with maggots? And then eaten, maggots and all?
Known as Casu Marzu, this cheese is a delicacy in Sardinia, where people are happy to risk fines to get their hands on a block. Earlier, Casu Marzu was made by accident when a fly would burrow into a block of mature Pecorino and lay eggs. But now, flies are led into blocks of Pecorino intentionally so that the transformation can happen. The larvae work in the center of the cheese block, converting it into a creamy consistency that is sought after by so many.
When served, the top portion of the cheese block is cut away to reveal the center, where the maggots are. If the cheese is good, you should be able to see the maggots wriggling in the cheese. Dead maggots are usually a sign that the cheese has gone bad, so seeing the maggots should make you happy. When you eat Casu Marzu, you have to make sure to chew it properly to ensure that the maggots are killed before you swallow. If left alive, they could make it to your intestines and cause severe, and sometimes fatal, digestive issues.
In 1962, the Italian government made the consumption of Casu Marzu illegal because of laws that prohibit the consumption of food infected by parasites. Anyone who is caught selling the cheese can be fined upwards of €50,000 (that’s a nearly whopping ₹45,00,000), though Sardinians don’t seem to care much. Casu Marzu might soon be losing its status as illegal, because the European Union has begun to study the concept of eating food with insects in it, where the insects are raised in a controlled environment specifically for consumption.
The primary reluctance towards Casu Marzu from those who first hear about it comes from the fact that the cheese has maggots inside it, even though eating insects is common in many cultures. While it does sound dangerous, Sardinians are loath to give up this beloved cheese, so all that's required for a lover of cheese and food is keep an open mind, an empty stomach, and a lot of curiosity!