Cheeseworm sitting on a couch watching TV lips in window

A Day in the Life (and Death) of a Cheese Worm

Illustrations by Jocelyn Tsaih
Story by Lynda Lucas and Mikki Halpin 

Say Cheese!

In the wilds of Sardinia, there exists a delicacy known as casu marzu, or “rotten cheese.” The sought-after dish is a sheep’s milk concoction that’s served in an advanced state of decomposition, full of wriggling insect larvae. Gourmands eat the cheese and the maggots together, allegedly savoring the flavor of the worms’ digestive juices. Some consider it an aphrodisiac. It’s also illegal and super gross.

cheeseworms waving from a slice of cheese

The Munchies

The worms, of course, are not the least bit aware of their intended fate. They are just living their lives, relaxing in their cheese houses, eating their cheese meals, and watching cheesy television. They believe that one day, they’ll mutate into full-grown Piophila casei, flap their little wings, and enter insect life. But it is not to be.

cheeseworm sitting on a couch watching tv

Tears and Fears

Eventually, the decomposing cheese becomes very soft and secretes a liquid known as lagrima, or “teardrop.” Casu marzu literally weeps for its victims, and they weep too, as the worms begin to realize that they will never grow old, or even attend college. Their life path is tragically gastric—from eating to being eaten. Those who enjoy casu marzu are said to cover their eyes when they partake, perhaps in order to avoid looking into the faces of their victims.

A spoon scoops up a bite of the cheese with the cheese worms wiggling out of the cheese holes; and carries it towards the mouth

The Great Escape

However, one must never underestimate a worm’s desire for freedom. As the cheese-eating monsters are covering their eyes and preparing to consume their highly prized (and gross) treat, some of the little larvae inside remember just what Piophila casei stands for: cheese skipper. And being a cheese skipper means something. Inspired and emboldened by this realization, the worms literally skip the cheese, contorting their limbless bodies in order to spring forth out of their only home and into the unknown. They fly free before they have even become flies.

We applaud you, brave cheese worms! May we all seize control of our destiny and avoid being eaten by our enemies. May we all grow up full of dairy and live to mutate as we please. And may people stop eating this disgusting cheese.

spoon moves towards the mouth, the cheeseworm flees and leaps off the spoon

JOCELYN TSAIH is a Taipei-born, Shanghai-raised, New York City-based illustrator and designer.

LYNDA LUCAS is Damn Joan's design director.

MIKKI HALPIN is Damn Joan's editor in chief.


Published 11–13–2017