Extreme Cheese!

One good habit I consistently try to instill in my culinary students is the passion for lifelong learning. While important in every field, in the culinary arts we are faced with a truly unknowable amount of information regarding food, cooking, and culture, that forces us to act on the need for constant research, reading, and expansion of our knowledge base.

In addition to the many books I recommend to my students, there is also one particularly good magazine that I try to get every one of them to subscribe to. It's called Saveur (Saveur.com), and I've been a loyal reader for over twelve years. I can't begin to describe how many places, cultures, and cuisines I've learned about in its pages. I regularly go back to past issues for reference, research, of just something to read to pass some free time, and today I happened to open issue #68, August/September, 2003. In it there is a beautifully written and photographed article about the food of Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy separated from the boot by the Tyrrhenian Sea.

One element of traditional Sardinian cuisine that caught my eye was a type of cheese called Casu Marzu, or Maggot Cheese. The process for making this cheese apparently begins in much the same manner as other Pecorino-style sheep's milk cheeses, but veers away radically as soon as the eggs of a specific type of fly (called the cheese fly) are intentionally introduced to the wheel of cheese. Once the eggs hatch on or in the cheese, the larvae (called cheese skippers for their remarkable jumping abilities) burrow in and begin feeding, breaking the solids down into a soft, gooey mass. After a prescribed amount of time, the cheese is ready to eat, and the locals spread it on bread, maggots and all, washing it down with plenty of red wine. I haven't been fortunate enough yet to get over to Sardinia and try this delicacy, but I certainly would give it a go if I were there...would you?

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