Sardinian Rotten Cheese Casu Marzu

Casu Marzu - Rotten Cheese

No good deed goes unpunished.

In Italian we say chi fa bene va in galera (who does good, ends up in prison).

It has probably happened to you at some point in your life. You have done something nice for someone, but that didn’t yield the expected result. 

We were enjoying some pecorino cheese for dinner last Friday, and I remembered something that happened when I was a teenager. So I told hubby about it. And because it’s kind of a funny story, I thought I’d share with you too.

I come from Sardinia and many years ago my father used to be friends with two shepherds from the Nuoro area. The shepherds had asked him if he knew someone who could do a job for them; I don’t recollect the details of what needed to be done. 

My dad introduced the shepherds to two guys from Rome, who travelled to Sardinia and were able to help. The shepherds were very happy with what these two Roman guys had done for them. So they asked my dad if he would give them a present on their behalf. 

The present in question was a wheel of cheese, which they had made themselves. Now, we’re not talking about ordinary pecorino cheese here, we’re talking about casu marzu, which in Sardinian means ‘rotten cheese’ (or formaggio marcio). 

This used to be a delicacy in Sardinia (and still is, even though it’s kind of illegal to sell now). This type of cheese is made in a special way, let’s just say that when it’s ready, the middle has the consistency of a cream, yellowish in colour, inhabited by lots of tiny white maggots.

When I was a child I remember that people used to rave about this cheese. If you dared open its package, the smell would hit you in the face and almost cause you to faint. People used to chase the maggots around their plate and spread them, together with the cheese, on their bread. It looked disgusting, and I never managed to try it when my parents offered it to us. More on this cheese in this video.

So, going back to my story, the shepherds in question gave my father their best cheese as a thank you for the two Romans, possibly their most rotten wheel of cheese!

The package was very well wrapped and my dad gave it to the two guys from Rome, who were travelling by ferry, from Sardinia to mainland Italy, that very evening. My father explained that this was a thank you present from the two shepherds, and this was going to be the best cheese that they ever tasted.

The guys were impressed and said that they would buy some bread and wine, and would enjoy the special cheese as part of their evening meal, on the ferry. Bread, wine, cheese… what more could you ask for?

The following day my father received a phone call from one of the Roman guys. His tone wasn’t reassuring. I was there and I could hear the guy shouting down the phone. He told my father: “What kind of present did your friends give us? You should be ashamed of having such friends! Is this the way to treat us?”

My dad could not understand what was wrong. The guy continued “We opened your package. God! The smell was revolting. That cheese you gave us was rotten! And I mean rotten! There were maggots! I’ve never seen anything like it!”

My dad carried on listening with a baffled expression. The guy carried on: “The whole cabin stank! When we opened the door, the stench wafted into the corridor too. Can you imagine?  We didn’t know what to do with it, so we rushed to deck and threw the cheese into the sea, with the whole wrapping too!”

My dad was shocked. Those idiots had thrown into the sea a most precious gift. And now they even dare insult him and his friends.

He tried to explain but the guy refused to listen. He let him get it off his chest, then hung up.

My father decided to never tell the shepherds the sad end that their cheese had met. His only hope was that at least the fish in the sea had enjoyed both the cheese and the maggots.

As I remembered this story, I thought about creating a puzzle that was cheese-related. So what about a word scramble with the most popular Italian cheeses?

Italian word scramble - formaggi italiani

You can play the word scramble here

Drop me a line and let me know if you manage to solve the full puzzle :-)

Back to blog