Casu martzu

Casu martzu[1] (Sardinian pronunciation: [ˈkazu ˈmaɾtsu]; literally 'rotten/putrid cheese'), sometimes spelled casu marzu, and also called casu modde, casu cundídu and casu fràzigu in Sardinian, is a traditional Sardinian sheep milk cheese that contains live insect larvae (maggots).

Casu martzu (Sardinian)
Casgiu merzu (Corsican)
Rotten cheese
Country of origin
Region, town
Source of milkSheep
Aging time3 months
Related media on Commons

A variation of this cheese exists also in Corsica (France), where it is called casgiu merzu,[2] and is especially produced in some Southern Corsican villages like Sartene.[3]

Derived from pecorino, casu martzu goes beyond typical fermentation to a stage of decomposition, brought about by the digestive action of the larvae of the cheese fly of the Piophilidae family. These larvae are deliberately introduced to the cheese, promoting an advanced level of fermentation and breaking down of the cheese's fats. The texture of the cheese becomes very soft, with some liquid (called làgrima, Sardinian for "teardrop") seeping out. The larvae themselves appear as translucent white worms, roughly 8 mm (516 in) long.[4]


Casu martzu is created by leaving whole pecorino cheeses outside with part of the rind removed to allow the eggs of the cheese fly Piophila casei to be laid in the cheese. A female P. casei can lay more than 500 eggs at one time.[4][5] The eggs hatch and the larvae begin to eat through the cheese.[6] The acid from the maggots' digestive system breaks down the cheese's fats,[6] making the texture of the cheese very soft; by the time it is ready for consumption, a typical casu martzu will contain thousands of these maggots.[7]


Casu martzu is considered by Sardinian aficionados to be unsafe to eat when the maggots in the cheese have died.[8] Because of this, only cheese in which the maggots are still alive is usually eaten, although allowances are made for cheese that has been refrigerated, which results in the maggots being killed.[8] When the cheese has fermented enough, it is often cut into thin strips and spread on moistened Sardinian flatbread (pane carasau), to be served with a strong red wine like cannonau.[6][9] Casu martzu is believed to be an aphrodisiac by Sardinians.[10] Because the larvae in the cheese can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimetres (6 in) when disturbed,[4][11] diners hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping. Some who eat the cheese prefer not to ingest the maggots. Those who do not wish to eat them place the cheese in a sealed paper bag. The maggots, starved for oxygen, writhe and jump in the bag, creating a "pitter-patter" sound. When the sounds subside, the maggots are dead and the cheese can be eaten.[12][8]

Health concerns

According to some food scientists, it is possible for the larvae to survive the stomach acid and remain in the intestine, leading to a condition called pseudomyiasis. There have been documented cases of pseudomyiasis with P. casei.[13][14]

Because of European Union food hygiene-health regulations, the cheese has been outlawed, and offenders face heavy fines.[12] However, some Sardinians organized themselves in order to make casu martzu available on the black market, where it may be sold for double the price of an ordinary block of pecorino cheese.[10][8] As of 2019, the illegal production of this cheese was estimated as 100 tonnes (98 long tons; 110 short tons) per year, worth between €2–3 million.[15]

Attempts have been made to circumvent the Italian and EU ban by having casu martzu declared a traditional food[8] (it has been made in the same manner at least as early as 1985, and it is therefore exempt from ordinary food hygiene regulations). The traditional way of making the cheese is explained by an official paper of the Sardinian government.[16]

Casu martzu is among several cheeses that are not legal in the United States.[17]

A cooperation between sheep farmers and researchers at the University of Sassari developed a hygienic method of production in 2005, aiming to allow the legal selling of the cheese.[18]

Because of its fermentation process, the Guinness World Record proclaimed Casu Martzu as the world's most dangerous cheese.[19]


In Sardinia, pastoralism has been a key part in crafting the cultural identity that Sardinians embody today. Throughout the years, pastoralism has proven to be a representation of Sardinian culture through the connection of people, land, and food. Due to the landscape of Sardinia, sheep farming became a major enterprise and symbol of Sardinian culture. Many areas within Sardinia still rely on pastoralism as an economic means of living, as well as a traditional concept that has shaped their identity in many ways, such as through food habits.[20] Pasteurization is essential in the making of cheese, which is a desired delicacy in Sardinia. More specifically, Casu Marzu, which is a traditional delicacy that has a local protection, but overall has been banned by the Italian Government due to health concerns.[21] This cheese has been a staple in Sardinian culture as it was made by sheep farmers with their sheeps' milk.[20] Due to the banning of the cheese, the method in which you create Casu Marzu has been forgotten by many, but not all. It is quite hard to find, but not impossible if you know where to look. Sardinia's traditional shepherds and elders keep the taste of Casu Marzu alive in Italy. Though this cheese is hard to find, it is still eaten during special occasions such as weddings and anniversaries of customary Sardinians.[22]

Other regional variations

Outside of Sardinia, similar milk cheeses are also produced in the French island of Corsica, as a local variation of the Sardinian cheese produced in some Southern villages and known as casgiu merzu[2] or casgiu sartinesu, as well as in a number of Italian regions.[23][24][25]

Several other regional varieties of cheese with fly larvae are produced in the rest of Europe. For example, goat-milk cheese is left to the open air until P. casei eggs are naturally laid in the cheese.[6] Then it is aged in white wine, with grapes and honey, preventing the larvae from emerging, giving the cheese a strong flavour. In addition, other regions in Europe have traditional cheeses that rely on live arthropods for ageing and flavouring, such as the German Milbenkäse and French Mimolette, both of which rely on cheese mites.

A similar kind of cheese, called Mish, is also produced in Egypt.

An early printed reference to Stilton cheese points to a similar production technique. Daniel Defoe in his 1724 work A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain notes "We pass'd Stilton, a town famous for cheese, which is call'd our English Parmesan, and is brought to table with the mites or maggots round it, so thick, that they bring a spoon with them for you to eat the mites with, as you do the cheese."[26]

According to Rabbi Dr. Chaim Simons of the Orthodox Union, kosher casu martzu can be produced provided that all ingredients are kosher and animal rennet is not used.[27]

See also


  1. "Casu, Ditzionàriu in línia de sa limba e de sa cultura sarda". Regione Autònoma de Sardigna. c. martzu = casu fatu, fatitadu, fatitu, giampagadu, cunnitu.
  2. Camille Cazorla (2016). "Le casu marzu, le fromage (à larves) le plus dangereux du monde". Le Figaro. le casu marzu qui signifie littéralement « fromage pourri » est originaire de Sardaigne, île méditerranéenne située au sud de la Corse. On l'y retrouve sous plusieurs appellations, casu modde, casu cundhidu, mais aussi en Italie, formaggio marcio, ou encore en Corse, sous le nom de casgiu merzu.
  3. "Fromage corse: le Sartenais". Archived from the original on 1 May 2014. Retrieved 8 August 2014.
  4. Berenbaum, May R (1993). Ninety-Nine More Maggots, Mites, and Munchers. University of Illinois Press. pp. 10–14. ISBN 0-252-06322-8.
  5. Stephens, Andrew (30 August 2008). "Top five ... challenging foods; eat, drink, cook ... and be merry". The Age. p. A2. Under "Casu martzu"
  6. Overstreet, Robin M (December 2003). "Presidential Address: Flavor Buds and Other Delights". Journal of Parasitology. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: American Society of Parasitologists. 89 (6): 1093–1107. doi:10.1645/GE-236. PMID 14740894. S2CID 34903443. Retrieved 6 October 2008. Under the "Botflies and other insects" section.
  7. Hegarty, Shane (1 April 2006). "Maggots, songbirds and other acquired tastes". The Irish Times. p. 12.
  8. Hay, Mark (31 March 2020). "The secret resistance behind the world's most dangerous cheese". The Outline. Retrieved 27 December 2021.
  9. Loomis, Susan Herrmann (May 2002). "Sardinia, Italy". Bon Appétit. Archived from the original on 9 April 2006. Retrieved 8 October 2008.
  10. Trofimov, Yaroslav (23 October 2000). "As a Cheese Turns, So Turns This Tale Of Many a Maggot --- Crawling With Worms and Illicit, Sardinia's Ripe Pecorinos Fly In the Face of Edible Reason". Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition). 236 (37): A1. ISSN 0099-9660.
  11. Bethune, Brian (16 October 2006). "The back pages". Maclean's. The agile maggots offer an additional frisson: they can bend themselves so tightly that, when they let go, the force unleashed propels them six inches or more.
  12. Frauenfelder, Mark (2005). "Most Rotten Cheese". The World's Worst: A Guide to the Most Disgusting, Hideous, Inept, and Dangerous People, Places, and Things on Earth. Chronicle Books. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-0-8118-4606-6.
  13. Peckenschneider, L. E.; Pokorný, C.; Hellwig, C. A. (17 May 1952). "Intestinal infestation with maggots of the "cheese fly" (Piophila casei)". The Journal of the American Medical Association. 149 (3): 262–263. doi:10.1001/jama.1952.72930200005011b. PMID 14927333.
  14. Brand, Alonzo F. (January 1931). "Gastrointestinal Myiasis: Report of a Case". JAMA Internal Medicine. JAMA. 47 (1): 149–154. doi:10.1001/archinte.1931.00140190160017.
  15. Giulio Brescia. "Casu marzu, un formaggio pericoloso… in attesa del marchio Dop". p. 40.
  16. "Casu frazigu – Formaggi" (PDF) (in Italian). Regione autonoma della Sardegna – ERSAT: Ente Regionale di Sviluppo e Assistenza Tecnica. Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2010.
  17. Van Hare, Holly (30 May 2019). "These Cheeses Are Banned in the US". The Daily Meal. Tribune. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  18. "Edizioni Pubblicità Italia". Archived from the original on 16 May 2013. Retrieved 1 August 2014.
  19. Serreli, By Agostino Petroni, CNN | Lead photo by Andrea. "Casu marzu: The world's 'most dangerous' cheese". CNN. Retrieved 10 May 2022. {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  20. Mattalia; Corvo; Giulia; Paolo, Soukand; Pieroni; Renata; Andrea (2020). ""Wild Food Thistle Gathering and Pastoralism: An Inextricable Link in the Biocultural Landscape of Barbagia, Central Sardinia (Italy)"". BASEL.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. Van Huis; Van Gurp; Dicke, Arnold; Henk; Marcel (2014). Maggot Cheese in Sardinia. Columbia University Press.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. Serreli, By Agostino Petroni, CNN | Lead photo by Andrea (18 March 2021). "Casu marzu: The world's 'most dangerous' cheese". CNN. Retrieved 6 December 2022. {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  23. Comuni italiani. "Cacie' punt". Archived from the original on 7 February 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  24. "Formaggio saltarello". Prodotti tipici. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 December 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  25. Prodotti tipici. "Pecorino marcetto" (PDF). Archived from the original on 12 December 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  26. Everyman's Library (London/New York: Dent/Dutton, 1928), Vol. II, p. 110.
  27. "Wormy Cheese, Cloned Pig Meat and much more for a Kosher table?" (PDF). Retrieved 22 December 2021.

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