Sardinia – extreme cheese!
Some tales from 2002 – please only read if you are strong of stomach!
There are some Sardinian delicacies that are harder to come by. On my first work visit to Cagliari 14 years ago I was well and truly looked after by an Irishman named Eddie who had settled here, married alocal, had kids and opened a private English language school. As I’d told him I was interested in food, he delighted in taking me to his friend’s restaurants and feeding me the more unusual local dishes (snails and such like).
At the end of one meal, when all the other customers had departed, he asked if I’d like to try something really unusual. The answer was of course yes but he swore me to secrecy because his mate’s restaurant could be shut down according to EU health regulations if word got out!
A polythene bag arrived at the table containing a brown paste that in appearance and consistency seemed very much like hummus. I tried a small spoonful and experienced the most intensely powerful cheese flavour I’ve ever known. The cheese coated my mouth and the taste stayed for about twenty minutes afterwards!
This turned out to be Casu Marzu, a type of local cheese where a certain kind of fly is trapped inside the bag with the cheese and allowed to lay its eggs. The resulting maggots are allowed to work through the cheese, speeding its decomposition until it is deemed ready to eat.
Some aficionados prefer to eat the cheese with the tiny maggots still in situ (mine was maggot-free thankfully), although this can be quite difficult as the maggots are able to jump quite a long distance. Hence Eddie jokingly referred to it as ‘jumpa jumpa cheese’.
Although attempts have been made to have Casu Marzu (or Marsu) designated as a traditional food it’s legal status under EU food laws is still dubious. Consequently I found it impossible to source any on my return in 2015 although I was told it was possible if you made the right contacts (ie someone who knows a shepherd).
Eddie’s parting gift to me was a vacuum-packed bag of Su Callu, a cheese made in the stomach of a baby goat which still contains its mother’s milk. After the kid has been slaughtered the guts are sown shut, and the stomach is hung up until the milk has hardened into cheese.
I tried to turn the present down as there was no way I could carry it in my suitcase as I travelled around Italy in the height of mid-summer for the next three weeks. I was told quite firmly that one should not refuse gifts in Sardinia and so I reluctantly took it with me and left it untried in the hotel minibar fridge for someone who would appreciate it more. Not tasting it remains one of my biggest culinary regrets but I didn’t want to waste such a special product.
Still, it will be something I will always remember. Thanks for some very novel foodie experiences Eddie!
Here’s an interesting post from another blog which goes into more detail about both these cheeses and other Sardinian delicacies.