August 3, 2017 by Emma Bentley
Mimolette is the famous French “cheese-mite cheese” – a term which sends shivers down the spine of the uninitiated. (If you can get over the continuous misspelling of extra vieille, Culture Cheese Mag have a reference page on Mimolette.)
Banned, then repealed, before being banned once again, America’s FDA object to the presence of, urm, ‘dust’ from these supposed cheese-mites. I use the word supposed because these critters are actually more similar to bed-bugs than they are to mites… but a bed-bug cheese sounds even less appealing!!
Mimolette, however, is a walk in the park compared to its Sardinian cousin. Let me introduce you to: Casu Marzu.
It’s a sheep milk cheese (pecorino, in Italian) aged for three to four weeks, during which a fly lays its eggs in the very centre of the cheese.
When the cheese is ready to eat, these larvae will be about a centimetre long. They are very much alive; they wriggle and will even jump out of the cheese. You’re supposed to eat the cheese, maggots and all.
It is even said that the maggots are a sign that the cheese is good. If the maggots happen to die, you shouldn’t eat the cheese either.
Casu marzu translates into English as the “rotten cheese” but it’s more commonly known by its nickname the “maggot cheese.” To the Sardinian people, however, it’s a symbol of national pride and of their cultural heritage.
It’s a cheese as strong, if not stronger, than a well-ripened Roquefort. Salty, pungent and certainly not for the faint-hearted; as with everything, when it’s made well, it’s actually really good. It’s not something I’ll eat every day but I will try to seek it out again the next time I’m in Sardinia.
If you have 10 minutes, it’s well worth watching this professionally produced video showing you the provenance, procedure and importance of casu marzu.
Finally, if you thought that casu marzu was the most extreme Sardinian cheese, let me take you up a level!
The kid is killed (a baby goat, I feel I should specify!) just after it has fed from its mother. In the spirit of letting nothing go to waste, the stomach, still full of milk, is sealed and then hung up and over the next few weeks, will turn into cheese. The acids found naturally in the stomach cause, much like rennet, the milk to curdle. After a couple of months, it’s ready to eat. Apparently, it’s strong – like, really strong.
As with casu marzu, you can’t just go into a cheese shop and expect to see su gallu on the counter. You need to know someone who knows someone…. and I haven’t yet asked the right people to ask…. but do you know what, I feel su gallu might be outside my comfort zone!
Vice wrote a piece on this cheese ten years ago. Here.
P.S. Watch the Mimolette mite/bug through a 100x microscope. These little tikes make their way into the cheese…. but it’s a one way journey. Very different from the casu marzu maggot which wriggles its way out.