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Around the world in 11 odd cheeses

By Joanne Lane, for CNN
updated 9:26 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
Like caviar, Casu Marzu is enjoyed only by a select population -- it's served with live maggots and has an aftertaste that lasts for hours. Like caviar, Casu Marzu is enjoyed only by a select population -- it's served with live maggots and has an aftertaste that lasts for hours.
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Casu Marzu (Italy)
Milbenkase (Germany)
Yak cheese (Tibetan communities)
Airag cheese (Central Asia)
Alpaca and llama cheese (Andes)
Human milk cheese (New York)
American cheese
Camel's milk cheese (North Africa)
Lichen cheese (Canada)
Deer milk cheese (New Zealand)
Donkey milk cheese (Serbia)
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Strange cheeses include those made with maggots, dust mites and even human breast milk
  • American cheese, such as that found in fast food burgers, isn't really a cheese at all
  • A Serbian group makes cheese from donkey milk

(CNN) -- You can roll it, ferment it, dry it and put holes in it.

It can be stinky enough to be banned on public transport, crawling with maggots or hard enough to break your teeth.

Cheese is savored all around the world -- even if some of it is an acquired taste.

Casu Marzu (Italy)

Like caviar, Casu Marzu is enjoyed only by a select population.

That's because it's served with live maggots.

It does have a fan base in Sardinia, where sheep farmers for centuries have made pecorino cheese and left it to rot and attract flies.

When the flies' eggs hatch the transformation takes place and the cheese becomes Casu Marzu.

It's then consumed with relish or perhaps trepidation -- it has an aftertaste that lasts for hours.

Gordon Ramsay called it "the most dangerous cheese in the world."

Where to try it: Casu Marzu contains live insects so it can't be imported. Sardinia is therefore still the best option at associations such as Agugliastra in Lanusei, Sardinia; www.agugliastra.it.

MORE: 10 things France does better than anywhere else

Milbenkase (Germany)

Just when you thought the Italians took the proverbial cheese for their maggots, along come the Germans with their mite excrement variety.

Produced in Wurchwitz from quark, it sits among dust mites for several months, with some rye for them to nibble on.

The mites excrete an enzyme to ripen the cheese that turns it progressively yellow, red-brown and then black, at which point it's eaten, mites and all.

Bitter and zesty, the cheese is said to have curative effects for allergies to house dust.

If you'd like some cheese with your mites, there's a mite-shaped memorial in Würchwitz -- in the hollow base there's some Milbenkase left for passersby to try.

Where to try it: Locally in Wurchwitz, Germany.

Like your cheese hard? Yak cheese might be for you.
Like your cheese hard? Yak cheese might be for you.

Yak cheese (Tibetan communities)

Imagine sucking and gnawing a piece of cheese-flavored resin for several hours and you'll get an idea of how hard this cheese is -- it could in fact break your teeth, although there are softer varieties.

The cheese is made by wrapping the curd from yak's milk in cloth and pressing it to get rid of the water.

When it dries out it's cut into pieces and allowed to dry, often over a wood fire.

It's earthy and tasty.

The yak is the male of the species and doesn't produce milk, so it really should be called nak cheese after the female.

Where to try it: Markets in Tibetan areas of China, India, Nepal and Bhutan.

MORE: Buy the world's 'oldest' cheese ... in China

Airag cheese (Central Asia)

Airag cheese, or horse milk cheese, is common in Central Asia where the horse is still integral to life in many places.

To make airag, a mare is milked during foaling season and the milk left to ferment with an agent such as last season's airag.

It's either suspended next to the ger/yurt entrance so anyone passing can stir it or it's tied to a saddle to achieve the same effect over a day's riding.

The airag is then added to boiled milk to curdle it, filtered through a fabric bag and pressed.

It can be eaten fresh or dried.

The dry variety is a popular snack out on the steppe, softened by soaking it in tea or soup.

Where to try it: Out on the Central Asian steppe in the ger/yurt of a nomadic family.

Camels are better suited to dry climates and their rich, earthy milk has more fat and protein.
Camels are better suited to dry climates and their rich, earthy milk has more fat and protein.

Camel's milk cheese (Ethiopia, Mauritania, Sudan and Bedouin communities)

Nomadic herders across Africa have been milking their camels for centuries.

Not only are the resilient beasts a more viable alternative to cows in dry climates, but their rich, earthy milk has more fat and protein.

However, making cheese from camel milk is a more difficult process, so herders use camel rennet from pieces of the animal's stomach to coagulate the milk and create curds.

This may account for its sour taste and pungent aroma.

To enjoy camelbert options you'll have to visit supermarket shelves in Nouakchott, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

It's also found in Kazakhstan.

Where to try it: Supermarket shelves in Nouakchott, the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia; Costa Coffee in the UK; Starbucks in Dubai.

MORE: Cheese rolling: Extreme sport or Britain's oddest festival?

Human milk cheese (New York)

When the freezer of New York chef Daniel Angerer started to overflow with his wife's breast milk, he decided to experiment with it rather than throw it out.

He blogged about the process online with photos of mother's milk with beets and romaine, dehydrated porcini mushroom and onion chutney.

For those feeling queasy, rest assured the cheese was never produced in his restaurant or sold.

As for commercial opportunities, lactating mothers can't produce anything like the quantity of breast milk needed to make large quantities of cheese.

Where to try it: Not yet commercially available.

American cheese

In a country that celebrates National Grilled Cheese Day, it should come as no surprise that American cheese remains a staple on grocery shelves -- the texture and meltability are perfect for toasted sandwiches and burgers.

Technically, of course, American cheese isn't even real cheese -- ingredients include milk, whey, milkfat, salt, gelatine, milk powder, dyed orange, artificial flavors and oil.

The odd concoction is blended with a generic processed cheese to form the smooth, creamy and super-melty slices that are either loved, tolerated or abhorred around the United States.

Where to try it: McDonald's, American food supermarkets.

MORE: 10 quintessential U.S. meals and where to get them

A Canadian group has been inspired by the Inuits, using lichen from a caribou\'s stomach to make their cheese.
A Canadian group has been inspired by the Inuits, using lichen from a caribou's stomach to make their cheese.

Lichen cheese (Canada)

When a small Quebec company found out the Inuit once ate a fermented lichen from the stomach of caribou that tasted like blue cheese, they decided to try it for themselves.

Using Quebec goat's milk and lichen, the company creates a mold from roasting and boiling the lichen, then lets it rest and ferment.

The cheese is still in its experimental stage.

Where to try it: Société d'Orignal, Montreal, Canada.

Deer milk cheese (New Zealand)

Reindeer milk cheese has been produced among the Sami communities in Finland for years.

Now, cheese from the humble red deer may soon become a hallmark of New Zealand.

The combined work of scientists and a cheese maker have resulted in the first cheese from the Kiwi bambi.

At $100 per liter, the rich deer milk isn't cheap, but with half of the world's farmed red deer production in New Zealand, farmers are getting excited about the possibility of having a product to sell beyond venison.

Where to try it: Buy it from Whitestone cheese company, North Otago, New Zealand.

Alpaca and llama cheese (Andean communities)

Life on the harsh Altiplano would be a struggle without the alpacas and llamas that give their dung for fuel, hide for leather, wool for clothing and milk for cheese.

Comical though they may appear -- they even give the occasional spit and unusual noise -- they're a little tricky to milk.

Once extracted, though, their whole milk can be made into a long-lasting cheese that's salty, rich and heavy in texture.

This finds its way into markets and local food like empanadas, though most travelers come across it only when visiting locals.

Where to try it: Local markets, Andes region, South America.

MORE: New Zealand's Fergburger may be the best burger joint on the planet

Donkey cheese (Serbia)

At the Zasavica Special Nature Reserve, 50 kilometers out of Belgrade, you can get your hands on pule, or donkey cheese.

While healthy -- it has 60 times more vitamin C than cow's milk -- donkeys only produce 200 ml of milk a day.

About 25 liters are required to make just one kilogram of cheese.

That means the white, crumbly pule is both limited and costly.

Currently it goes for about €1,000 a kilo, or $576 a pound.

The reserve also makes soap, a liquor and facial cream from the milk.

Cleopatra claimed her beauty was due to bathing in donkey milk.

Where to try it: In the Zasavica Special Nature Reserve, or buy it online at www.zasavica.org.rs.

MORE: Nasty beef: World's best worst food sites celebrate kitchen disasters

Joanne Lane is an Australian freelance photojournalist based in Brisbane.

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