Casu marzu cheese
Casu marzu, or rotten cheese is a type of Pecorino cheese from Sardinia. What makes this cheese different from others is the added ingredient of maggots. Cheese flies are allowed to lay their eggs in the cheese. The maggots that hatch then help the cheese to ferment to create that special casu marzu flavour. Those rule-mad European bureaucrats have deemed casu marzu not hygienic and so it cannot be sold legally in Sardinia, meaning that if you do want to sample some of this maggoty cheese, you’ll have to track it down on the black market. If you want to try it out, make sure to eat it before the maggots die—if even the maggots haven’t survived in the cheese, then there could be trouble. But watch out, the larvae are known to jump out of the cheese, so you need to shield your eyes while eating it.
The name might make it sound like a dark chocolaty delight that any vegetarian would be happy to tuck into, but black pudding—essentially a blood sausage—is a far cry from a dessert. Along with blood, pudding ingredients include pork fat, oatmeal, onions, pepper and herbs, all stuffed into a sausage casing. White pudding is a similar creature, but without the blood, and red pudding is a Scottish delight made from bacon, pork, fat and colouring, among other things.
Kopi luwak coffee
Kopi luwak, from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste, is a type of coffee that gains its distinctive flavour thanks to the beans having been digested by an Asian palm civet before they make it into your brew. The civet eats coffee berries, and while the beans pass through its digestive system they undergo a process that is said to remove the typically bitter taste of other coffees, leaving a sweeter and expensive bean.
A hundred-year egg, popular in China is created by taking a normal egg and coating it in lime, ashes, and salt before burying it for a few months. When the egg is dug up, its yolk will have become greenish-black, while the albumen, formerly white, will now be dark brown in colour.
Birds’ nest soup
A delicacy in South East Asia and China, this is not one of those things that, like Bombay Duck, isn’t quite what it says it is. With birds’ nest soup you get exactly what it says on the tin. The bird’s nests in question are built by Oriental swiftlets and constructed not of leaves and twigs but rather from a cement-like substance secreted from their salivary glands. This becomes gelatinous when made into soup. The nests are traditionally collected from caves, although nesting houses have also been built to make collection of this key ingredient easier.
Various different types of chicha are drunk in countries across South America. The key ingredient, which can be maize or yucca, is cooked, chewed, spat back out, and then fermented to make the drink.
In Sweden, Surströmming—fermented herring —is a delicacy. The herring are placed in barrels and then left in the sun for a day before being stored for one to two months to ferment. After being canned, the fermentation process continues, leading to the cans bulging ominously on supermarket shelves. In Iceland they take things one step further with Hákarl—fermented shark.
The brainchild of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organisation, a soft drink made from cow urine mixed with herbs is under development in India. Opposed to imported Western soft drinks, the group believes that its drink will have medicinal benefits.
The mescal worm
Mescal, similar to tequila, is a Mexican drink made from fermented agave plants. While you might think that tequila bottles come with a worm floating at the bottom of them, this is in fact not the case—you get worms in bottles of mescal. The worms live in the agave plants and are removed before the heart of the plant is baked and then fermented. To enjoy mescal at its best, knock back a shot, and then bite into a wedge of orange or lime that has been liberally sprinkled with “sal de gusanito”—a blend of spices and dried, crushed worm.
Stinky fermented bean curd
Stinky fermented bean curd is fermented for over six months and is also popular due to its strong creamy flavor. However due to its strong acrid smell, this variety is an acquired taste! I’d describe the smell as a mixture of old socks, boiled cabbage and Stinking Bishop cheese. In Taiwan, a green version is popular and made with sake lees crushed leaves and a green mould. It is then fermented for 12 hours.