Cheese for the Brave: Casu Marzu finally available in the US
Well, it finally happened. Perhaps the most infamous cheese in the world has arrived in the US: Ornella Trattoria in New York has apparently imported the cheese, and Bradley Hawks has the story at his blog, Amuse Bouche.
Update: Original tipster Matt Spiegler notes: "I called the restaurant, and the person on the phone (I think it was the owner) was very clear about the fact that they DO NOT sell it, but rather offer it as a tasting treat for customers."
In case you haven't been following the media career of Casu Marzu, it has become infamous in recent years for being a Sardinian Pecorino which undergoes a secondary fermentation by fly larva. These larva remain in the cheese when it's eaten, earning it a place on many "grossest foods" list.
I find myself torn by Casu's infamy. Without sounding too much like Sandor Katz, I'm always surprised at how few people realize the pervasiveness of fermentation, and how many essential foods—coffee, chocolate, salami, beer, wine and pickles, just to start— ripen with the assistance of third parties like fungus and bacteria. By making the process "macro," Casu Marzu prompts people to think about fermentation and the web of organisms we rely on to transform simple milk into spectacular cheese. Not disgusting, amazing! It also helps raise awareness of an interesting and tasty corner of the culinary world (entomophagy) most folks don't know exists, let alone in European food traditions.
On the other hand, Casu Marzu is a gruesome outer-edge example. Just like a plate of ikezukuri (where fish is prepared so rapidly that it's still twitching on the plate) would deter someone from trying their first bite of sushi, the spectacle of live maggot cheese will certainly spill over onto less creaturesome cheeses and deter folks from exploring less challenging, and frankly less gimmicky, options.
On the other other hand, if I lived in NYC, I'd be down at Ornella tonight angling for a piece, but that's me.
Top image via Shardan, some rights reserved. Bottom images via Brendan Hawks, all rights reserved.