Would you try the Italian cheese infested with live maggots?

“Casu marzu” literally means “rotten cheese,” but in Sardinia, it’s a delicacy. What starts as a regular wheel of pecorino is then visited by cheese flies that lay their eggs inside, giving this cheese its signature zing.

Yet with a nickname like “the world’s most dangerous cheese” and the presence of swarming maggots, it’s fair to say it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

A handful of artisan cheesemakers continue to produce this traditional cheese, cementing casu marzu’s status in Sardinian culture. That doesn’t mean it’s not shocking to the rest of us, and the cheese is technically outlawed in Italy and across the European Union.

This unique creation comes from leaving entire pecorino cheese outside, allowing cheese flies (Piophila casei) to lay their eggs in the cheese. Each fly can lay up to 500 eggs at once, and when they hatch they become maggots. Once it is swarming, but before they are dead, the casu marzu is ready to eat.

casu marzu maggot cheese
Casu marzu is over typical fermentation and is closer to a stage of decomposition. (Getty Images)

Casu marzu has to be eaten when the maggots are still alive, as if they have already died it is considered the rotting process is too far along, even for the purists. The fact the maggots are still alive, however, is the reason for its legal status. 

Despite being protected due to its status as a traditional product of Sardinia, the Italian government has classified it illegal since 1962, under laws prohibiting the consumption of food infected by parasites. Fines of up to €50,000 (roughly $60,000) can be leveled at anyone selling the casu marzu, though Sardinians don’t seem too worried about any punishment actually coming to pass.  

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While authorities may question the safety of eating the cheese, it’s been consumed for thousands of years and there are no illnesses that have been linked to casu marzu specifically. “I believe that nobody has ever died eating casu marzu,” says Roberto Flore, the Sardinian head of Skylab FoodLab. “If they did, maybe they were drunk. You know, when you eat it, you also drink lots of wine.”

We tend to like our cheese without maggots, which is what you’ll find with the rare, golden, Polish cheese known as ‘oscypek’. It dates back to the 15th century and you can learn all about it in the Great Big Story below. 

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