Thursday, October 31, 2013


You're having another dinner party. Who knows, maybe this one will be normal? Maybe it's been long enough that people have forgotten that horrible incident with the jell-o salad. As you make small talk around the hors d'oeuvre you start to feel confident. Yes. This party will be normal. This time, your guests won't leave in horror and disgust. This time you won't be ostracized by the home owner's association.

But suddenly, your dear grandmama comes out of the kitchen carrying something she says is "from old country".

It looks like cheese. But it's altogether worse than cheese.

It's squirming. It can't be. It is.




And it's probably one of the most formidable cheeses in the world. Casu Marzu is native to the island of Sardinia, off the coast of Italy and is described as having an extremely potent ammoniated taste that lingers for several hours after eating. Such is the power of Casu Marzu that the European Union has tried to ban it's sale at least once. And why is that?

Because it's filled with live maggots, that's why.

You see, Casu Marzu starts life as comparatively innocuous Percorino cheese made from sheep's milk. The hard outer rind is cut open and the cheese is left in a cool, dark place. This allows swarms of cheese flies to come and lay eggs in the cheese's saucy depths. Because a female cheese fly can lay upward of five hundred eggs at a time, the Casu Marzu is likey to have several thousand maggots living in it by the time it's ready to eat.

The maggots actually eat the cheese from the inside out. The digestion of these thousands and thousands of maggots breaks down the fat in the Casu Marzu, resulting in the cheese's pungent flavor and aroma. It also results in a runny liquid called lagrima. This means that the sheep's milk is fermented once to make cheese then fermented again with the help of maggots. At this point, the cheese is basically decomposing.

And in spite of all this, people still have the audacity to call Casu Marzu an aphrodisiac.

It's considered unsafe to eat once the maggots have died (Because who wants to eat dead maggots? That'd be gross.). But the cheese can be refrigerated, which will kill them prematurely if you like. Or you can place a piece of cheese in a sealed paper bag. This will deprive the maggots of oxygen, which will then leap from the cheese to find air, which creates a popping sound. When the sound subsides, it means the maggots have died and you can eat your smelly cheese without worrying about maggots jumping at your face. And they certainly do jump, because if you prefer to eat the cheese with the maggots still inside they've been known to jump over fifteen centimeters when disturbed. So it's best to shield your face with your hand when taking a bite.

But either with or without maggots, Casu Marzu is typically served on flatbread with a glass of strong red wine, preferably at large family gatherings with lots of people egging you on.

Finally, like so many other hideous foods, Simian Mobile Disco has given Casu Marzu it's own theme song. Give it a listen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Get In The Car

Flopsy? What are you doing? How did you find the car keys?

Important bunny conference? No you can't go! It's illegal for you to drive!

Flopsy, turn this car around. We're not stopping to pick up your friends.

Flopsy, why wasn't I invited to the secret bunny conference? Flopsy, let me out of this car! I want to go home!

Monday, October 14, 2013


Picture it, you're at your first dinner party in months. You feel like you've finally gotten over the trauma of trying kefir for the first time and you're finally able to repress the memories of chugging down snake wine at that keg party in college. You're surrounded by familiar sights and smells; steak, potatoes even ambrosia salad. For once, it seems like everything's going to be normal. But then, your dear grandmama comes in, carrying a tray of what looks like Jell-o. She sets it on the table, saying it's something "from old country". You take one look and suddenly...

...your life is in shambles. I'm sorry to say; but you my friend have just experienced Aspic.

Basically, aspic is meat-flavored gelatin. Presumably, at some point in the Middle Ages people realized that if broth was left to cool for long enough, it would become a jelly. Things snowballed from there, until you had people tossing vegetables, meat and even boiled eggs in, creating aspic as we know it today.The basic procedure is to make a stock or consommé and let it cool. The gelatin naturally found in meat will start to congeal, resulting in a nice jelly. Before it sets it's possible to add any savory ingredient the cook can think of. I say savory because if sweet ingredients like fruit are used it would be more like a gelatin salad. After, aspic is typically served on cold plates to prevent it from melting.

For those who don't know, stock is made by simmering various ingredients in water, typically meat, bones or vegetables. Consommé is stock that has been clarified, which is a process that uses egg whites to remove fat and other unwanted particles.

Since stock can be made from basically any meat, it's theoretically possible to make aspic from virtually any animal; from beef, pork, chicken, turkey or even fish. Think about it, you could be enjoying salmon gelatin right now. However, stock alone might not provide enough gelatin to make a stable enough aspic and vegetable stock certainly won't provide enough to maintain a mold. So it's common to supplement it with additional gelatin from a mix.

Honestly, everyone I've tried to talk to about this has responded with utter horror. I'm sure it doesn't help that there's frequently entire fish encased in this stuff. But as far as weird food goes, aspic is potentially the least hideous. At least as long as the cook uses typical ingredients people would be comfortable with eating outside of a gelatin, like carrots or asparagus, it might actually be pleasant to eat.

But on the other hand, well...

Finally, like so many other hideous foods, aspic has it's own theme song by Simian Mobile Disco. Give it a listen: