The world's 'most dangerous' cheese

(CNN) — The Italian island of Sardinia sits in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea, gazing at Italy from a distance. Surrounded by a 1,849-kilometer coastline of white sandy beaches and emerald waters, the island’s inland landscape rapidly rises to form hills and impervious mountains. And it is within these edgy curves that shepherds produce casu marzu, a maggot-infested cheese that, in 2009, the Guinness World Record proclaimed the world’s most dangerous cheese.Cheese skipper flies, Piophila casei, lay their eggs in cracks that form in cheese, usually fiore sardo, the island’s salty pecorino.Maggots hatch, making their way through the paste, digesting proteins in the process, and transforming the product into a soft creamy cheese. Then the cheesemonger cracks open the top — which is almost untouched by maggots — to scoop out a spoonful of the creamy delicacy.It’s not a moment for the faint-hearted. At this point, the grubs inside begin to writhe frantically. Some locals spin the cheese through a centrifuge to merge the maggots with the cheese. Others like it au naturel. They open their mouths and eat everything.Casu marzu is made with sheeps’ milk.Sean Gallup/Getty ImagesIf you are able to overcome the understandable disgust, marzu has a flavor that is intense with reminders of the Mediterranean pastures and spicy with an aftertaste that stays for hours. Some say it’s an aphrodisiac. Others say that it could be dangerous for human health as maggots could survive the bite and and create myiasis, micro-perforations in the intestine, but so far, no such case has been linked to casu marzu. “The maggot infestation is the spell and delight of this cheese,” says Paolo Solinas, a 29-year-old Sardinian gastronome. He says some Sardinians cringe at the thought of casu marzu, but others raised on a lifetime of salty pecorino unabashedly love its strong flavors.”Some shepherds see the cheese as a unique personal pleasure, something that just a few elects can try,” Solinas adds.Archaic cuisineIt’s illegal to sell or buy casu marzu.Giovanni FancelloWhen tourists visit Sardinia, they usually wind up in a restaurant that serves porceddu sardo, a slowly roasted suckling piglet, visit bakers who sell pane carasau, a traditional paper-thin flatbread, and meet shepherds who produce fiore sardo, the island pecorino cheese. Yet, if you are adventurous enough, it’s possible to find the casu marzu. It shouldn’t be seen as a weird attraction, but a product that keeps alive an ancient tradition and hints at what the future of food might look like.Giovanni Fancello, a 77-year-old Sardinian journalist and gastronome, spent his life researching local food history. He’s traced it back to a time when Sardinia was a province of the Roman empire. “Latin was our language, and it’s in our dialect that we find traces of our archaic cuisine,” Fancello says. The cheese can only be produced at certain times of year when the sheeps’ milk is right.Alice MastinuThere is no written record of Sardinian recipes until 1909, according to Fancello. That’s when Vittorio Agnetti, a doctor from mainland Modena, traveled to Sardinia and compiled six recipes in a book called “La nuova cucina delle specialità regionali.””But we have always eaten worms,” says Fancello. “Pliny the Elder and Aristotle talked about it.”Ten other Italian regions have their variant of maggot-infested cheese, but while the products elsewhere are regarded as one-offs, casu marzu is intrinsically part of Sardinian food culture. The cheese has several different names, such as casu becciu, casu fattittu, hasu muhidu, formaggio marcio. Each sub-region of the island has its own way of producing it using different kinds of milk.’Magic and supernatural events’Foodies inspired by the exploits of chefs such as Gordon Ramsay often come in search of the cheese, says Fancello. “They ask us: ‘How do you make casu marzu?’ It’s part of our history. We are the sons of this food. It’s the result of chance, of magic and supernatural events.”Fancello grew up in the town of Thiesi with his father Sebastiano, who was a shepherd who made casu marzu. Facello shepherded his family’s sheep to grazing grounds around rural Monte Ruju, lost in the clouds, where magic was believed to happen.He recalls that, for his father, casu marzu was a divine gift. If his cheeses didn’t become infested with maggots, he would be desperate. Some of the cheese he produced stayed for the family, others went to friends or people who asked for it.Casu Marzu is typically produced at the end of June when local sheep milk begins to change as the animals enter their reproductive time and the grass dries from the summer heat. The coastal town of Alghero in Sardnina.MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty ImagesIf a warm sirocco wind blows on the cheesemaking day, the cheese-transforming magic works even harder. Fancello says it’s because the cheese has a weaker structure, making the fly’s job easier. After three months, the delicacy is ready.Mario Murrocu, 66, keeps casu marzu traditions alive at his farm, Agriturismo Sa Mandra, near Alghero in the north of Sardinia. He also keeps 300 sheep and hosts guests in his trattoria, and keeps casu marzu traditions alive.”You know when a form will become casu marzu,” he says. “You see it from the unusual spongy texture of the paste,” Murrocu says. Nowadays, this isn’t so much down to luck as the ideal conditions that cheesemongers now use to ensure as many casu marzu as possible. They’ve also figured out a way to use glass jars to conserve the cheese, which traditionally never lasted beyond September, for years. High finesSardinia’s unusual cheese dates back to Roman times. Alice MastinuThough revered, the cheese’s legal status is a gray area. Casu marzu is registered as a traditional product of Sardinia and therefore is locally protected. Still, it has been deemed illegal by the Italian government since 1962 due to laws that prohibit the consumption of food infected by parasites. Those who sell the cheese can face high fines up to €50,000 (about $60,000) but Sardinians laugh when asked about the prohibition of their beloved cheese.Research shows that their consumption could help reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with animal farming and help alleviate the climate crisis. Roberto Flore, the Sardinian head of Skylab FoodLab, the food system change laboratory of the Technical University of Denmark’s innovation hub, has long studied the concept of insect consumption. For a few years, he led the Nordic Food Lab research and development team — part of the three-Michelin-starred NOMA restaurant — trying to figure out ways to insert insects into our diet.”Lots of cultures associate the insect with an ingredient,” Flore says. That said, Sardinians prefer the cheese to the maggot and are often horrified by the idea that people eat scorpions or crickets in Thailand. Flore says he’s traveled around the world to study how different cultures approach insects as food and believes that while psychological barriers make it difficult to radically alter eating habits, such consumption is widespread. Open mindInsect consumption is more commonplace in countries such as Thailand. PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP via Getty Images”How do you define edible food?” he says .”Every region of the world has a different way to eat insects.”He’s convinced that Sardinia’s delicacy is safe to eat. “I believe that nobody has ever died eating casu marzu. If they did, maybe they were drunk. You know, when you eat it, you also drink lots of wine.”Flore hopes casu marzu will soon shed its clandestine status and become a symbol of Sardinia — not because of its unusual production, but because it’s emblematic of other foods now vanishing because they don’t fit in with modern mainstream tastes.Islanders and researchers hope that the European Union will soon rule in their favor.Until then, anyone who wants to sample it will need to ask around when they get to Sardinia. For those willing to suspend concerns about what they’re eating, it offers an authentic experience recalling a time when nothing was thrown away and when boundaries of what was edible or not were less well defined.Cheesemonger Murrocu says that, fittingly, locals keep an open mind about the best way to eat casu marzu, but a few other regional treats have been known to help it slip down easier.”We spread the cheese on wet pane carasau, and we eat it,” he says. “But you can eat it as you want, as long as there is some formaggio marcio and a good cannonau wine.”

THE SCOOP | Summer Music In The Garden’s Tamara Bernstein Announces Retirement

Summer Music In The Garden/FlickrSummer Music in the Garden Artistic Director Tamara Bernstein will retire after heading the series for 20 years.Appointed in 2001, Bernstein’s tenure saw the growth of Summer Music In The Garden from infancy at the iconic Music Garden, and most recently online.Many artists presented under Bernstein’s tenure have gone on to have celebrated careers, including soprano Jane Archibald, the Cecilia String Quartet and cellist Elinor Frey.Tamara Bernstein’s taste for programming was often indicative of the multi-cultural audiences in Toronto. Artists ranged from traditional chamber music, Indigenous works, as well as music from Brazil, Mumbai, Japan, Ukraine, and Bulgaria.“For 20 years as Artistic Director, Tamara has created opportunities for hundreds of artists and brought world-class programming to the Toronto Music Garden,” said Marah Braye, CEO, Harbourfront Centre.The series will continue through 2021 at the Music Garden in Toronto, with new works commissioned for 2022.“It was an enormous privilege to bring music and dance to Toronto’s central waterfront, free of charge, for 20 years,” said Bernstein in a statement. “Thank you to everyone who made these fleeting moments of urban utopia possible…”#LUDWIGVANGet the daily arts news straight to your inbox.Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE. Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all) Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.Latest posts by Michael Vincent (see all)

I’m Vaccinated Against COVID-19, But My Kids Aren’t. What’s Safe for Us?

In March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its long-awaited guidance for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Those lucky enough to have received both vaccine doses (or one dose of Janssen/Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine) can now hang out in a private home, blissfully mask-free, with other fully vaccinated folks, according to the guidelines. But what about families with kids? As of now, kids younger than 16 are not authorized to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., so there’s no way they can be fully protected. Does that mean parents and their children are staring down another year of isolation? Here’s what to know.

Kids get seriously ill far less often than adults First, the good news: It’s pretty rare for kids to get a severe case of COVID-19. According to CDC estimates, COVID-19 hospitalization rates are 80 times higher among adults older than 85 than they are among children of ages five to 17. Death rates for adults older than 85 are a staggering 7,900 times higher than they are for children. There are always unfortunate exceptions, of course. Kids certainly have been hospitalized and died from the virus, and some have developed an inflammatory condition known as MIS-C. Some evidence also suggests kids, like adults, can develop long-term symptoms after an infection. But, in general, a child who gets sick with COVID-19 is likely to have a fairly mild case and make a full recovery. So, what’s safe for my family? Even though children are at lower risk, families with unvaccinated kids shouldn’t rush straight back into pre-pandemic life, even if both parents are fully immunized, says Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of the pediatric division of infectious diseases at Children’s of Alabama. “We are beginning to loosen up and emerge from this darkness,” Kimberlin says, but “it’s not full sunlight” yet. Your family can, however, take small steps. Under CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people can visit with one household of unvaccinated people, provided none of the unvaccinated individuals has an underlying condition that puts them at risk of complications. That means, for example, that your children’s vaccinated grandparents could come to your house for an indoor, unmasked visit, even if the kids aren’t yet protected. Such a visit isn’t entirely risk-free, says Dr. Richard Malley, a senior physician in Boston Children’s Hospital’s division of infectious diseases. Malley says he is confident that a fully vaccinated person is less likely to spread the virus than an unvaccinated person, but exactly how much less likely they are remains unclear. Without that information—and with new variants complicating our knowledge of the virus and how it spreads—it’s impossible to say exactly how risky it would be for an unvaccinated child to spend time unmasked around other people, even if those other people have had their shots. Can the kids have a playdate? Until your kids are vaccinated, Kimberlin says he wouldn’t invite anyone unvaccinated into the house without a mask—even another child. The kids could potentially infect each other, and then pass on the virus to someone else, he says.

This situation will improve with time, Malley says. As more adults get vaccinated, case counts, test positivity rates and hospitalizations should continue to fall. As they do, you may feel more confident about expanding your social bubble, since it will be increasingly unlikely that anyone in your circle was exposed to the virus. “That risk declines as the intensity of the virus in that community drops,” Malley says. But for now, it’s still safest to arrange playdates for the kids outside, or inside wearing masks, Kimberlin suggests. And if your child has a health condition that puts them at higher risk of severe disease, you may want to continue taking precautions until he or she can get vaccinated. What about vacations and public places? Dr. Guliz Erdem, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, says you should be more cautious outside your home than in it. In a private home, you have a pretty good handle on how many people will be there and who has been vaccinated. That’s not true in, say, a restaurant or movie theater. “The main point is to avoid crowds and crowded settings—places that you cannot control what will happen,” she says. Here, too, the situation will improve as more people get vaccinated and there’s less virus circulating in your community. But right now, the virus is prevalent enough in most areas of the U.S. to justify avoiding shared indoor spaces, particularly those where people won’t be wearing masks. As for vacations, the CDC does not yet recommend recreational travel, even for those who are fully vaccinated. But if your family decides to take a trip, try to pick a destination where the virus isn’t spreading widely—and, ideally, one within driving distance. Airplanes haven’t proven to be common places for the virus to spread, but the family car is even lower risk, Malley says. And plan your activities with COVID-19 in mind, Malley says. If you’ve got an unvaccinated child, spending time at the beach is likely a safer choice than a day full of indoor activities. Can the kids go back to school? Luckily, data are increasingly suggesting that schools are not a major breeding ground for the virus, as long as the institutions take proper precautions around masking, social distancing and ventilation. Schools will also become increasingly safe as more adult employees get vaccinated.

As long as your kid’s school is following COVID-19 protocols—like requiring masks inside and keeping students spaced a few feet apart—it’s probably safe to send them back to the classroom. Malley, Erdem and Kimberlin all say they’d feel comfortable sending a school-aged child back, provided the school has implemented the right precautions. But if you don’t feel your school’s safety plan is adequate, or if there’s an outbreak in your area, that may be an argument for keeping the kids home at least a while longer. When can my kids get vaccinated? That depends on when vaccine makers finish their secondary studies. Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are all currently studying their shots in kids of various ages to make sure they are safe and promote an immune response in younger people. Once those data are finalized and submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the agency will decide whether to authorize the vaccines for younger people. Adolescents will likely become eligible for vaccines at some point in 2021, experts say. After that, manufacturers will likely keep working their way down in age. Younger children and babies may be the last to become eligible for the shots. But with each age group that gets vaccinated, herd immunity will grow stronger, offering more protection to those who remain unvaccinated.

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Justin Long, the 'I'm a Mac' actor, defects from Apple

Nearly two decades ago, Long extolled the benefits of Mac computers while playing one opposite John Hodgman’s PC in Apple’s iconic “Get a Mac” commercials. Now, in a pointed jab at Apple (AAPL), Long is featured in a new Intel (INTC) ad where he appears much more excited about new Intel-based PCs than the latest Mac laptops. “Hello, I’m a — Justin. Just a real person, doing a real comparison between Mac and PC,” Long says in the new Intel commercial, an obvious play on the “Hello, I’m a Mac” intro to the old Apple ads. “These are all PCs,” Long says as he surveys a collection of laptops in the new ad. “Oh yeah, Intel! Nice. My face just unlocked that, that’s so cool. And I’ve never seen a screen like that on a laptop.”He moves on to look at the Mac lineup: “So these are the newer Macs? Okay. So, gray and gray-er.” The new commercial is the latest exchange of not-so-friendly fire between Intel and Apple in recent months. Last fall, Apple went from being an Intel customer to competitor when it replaced the semiconductor giant’s x86 chips with its own M1 chips in the newest Mac lineup. Apple claimed its new chips make Macs significantly faster and quieter and give them longer battery life compared to previous Mac models and rival laptops. In fact, reviving the theme of the old Apple ads was the iPhone maker’s idea. When it announced the new M1 Macs in November, Apple brought back Hodgman to again star as “PC guy” in a new ad. “Hi, I’m a PC,” Hodgman says in Apple’s November ad. “Is there a time for questions? Good, because I have one. Why? Why make all these advancements? What’s the point?”Moves like Apple’s to make its own chips pose a real threat to Intel, which has long relied on dominating the PC business. In recent years, Intel has lost share in the PC market, among other challenges, and the company recently hired new CEO Pat Gelsinger to help right the ship. At an Intel staff meeting in January, after Gelsinger was named the incoming CEO but before officially taking over the role, he told employees that the company has to “deliver better products” for PCs than anything “a lifestyle company in Cupertino” makes, a likely reference to Apple, according to a report from The Oregonian.The new commercial may be another indicator of how aggressive Gelsinger plans to be in countering Apple and other competitors as he attempts to return Intel to its former glory. Whether the ad convinces people to buy more PCs remains to be seen, but at least Intel now has Long’s support.