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Cheese Mites and Maggots

Cheese manufacturers use spider-like insects and fly larvae to impart particular flavors and aromas to certain cheeses.

May 4, 2012 |
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Sources Cited

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Ninjatacoshell, John Curtis, Shardan, and zimpenfish via Wikimedia Commons.

Transcript

Cases of cheese mite dermatitis date back over 60 years in the United States, also known as cheese itch. . Though typically considered vermin by the food industry, affecting harder cheeses like aged cheddar in particular, they are sometimes intentionally added to cheese for added flavor, known colloquially as spider cheese. In in the Journal of Dairy Science the various species were recently identified. When cheese is ripened with mites, a nutty, fruity flavor and aroma develops. The placement of the anal suckers can evidently be used to help differentiate between the different types, to make sure you have the right one. Here's a video of the little suckers in action, ripening the cheese, developing the nutty fruity flavor and aroma…
Positively appetizing, though, compared to some other cheese-making practices. The cheese skipper is sometimes present in well-aged cheese and a proof of its quality. The cheese skipper doesn’t sound so bad, until you realize they’re talking about cheese infested with maggots of the cheese fly. The larvae are the well-known cheese skippers. They can cause intestinal infections—even urinary tract infections.
Normally the insects are just contaminants, but there is a spider cheese equivalent of the maggot world, casu marzu, a soft cheese intentionally riddled with thousands maggots, of the cheese fly to aid in fermentation. Evidently because they larvae can launch themselves for distances up to 15 centimeters, diners are said to hold their hands above the sandwich to prevent the maggots from leaping.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Cheese manufacturers may also add aluminum to cheese to improve sliceability (see Aluminum in Vaccines vs. Food), just as the poultry industry adds arsenic to the diets of chickens to improve carcass coloration (Arsenic in Chicken). The farmed salmon industry also artificially colors the flesh of their fish (see Artificial Coloring in Fish) and the egg industry tries in vain to compete with greens by adding plant pigments to chicken feed (Egg Industry Blind Spot). Please feel free to browse through the other videos on questionable industry practices and hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects. Note that the cheddar cheese mite study is available open access, so you can download it by clicking on the link above in the Sources Cited section.

Please be sure to check out my associated blog post, Adding FDA-Approved Viruses to Meat.

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Cheese manufacturers may also add aluminum to cheese to improve
    sliceability (see Aluminum in Vaccines vs. Food), just as the poultry adds arsenic to the diets of chickens to improve carcass coloration (Arsenic in Chicken). The farmed salmon industry also artificially colors the flesh of their fish (see Artificial Coloring in Fish) and the egg industry tries in vain to compete with greens by adding plant pigments to chicken feed (Egg Industry Blind Spot). Please feel free to browse through the other videos on questionable industry practices and hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects. Note that the cheddar cheese mite study is available open access, so you can download it by clicking on the link above in the Sources Cited section.

    • HemoDynamic

      I love this!!!!  My patients will love it even more! Nothing like the gross-factor to convince people to change.
      Keep up yoour great work!!!!!

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Just a note:  I was at the store the other day and my 12 year old son said, “Dad want some mites?” while pointing at the cheese.  I had to chuckle. Because of this video my son has since convinced two of his friends to go Vegan.  In fact, he went to a Birthday Party yesterday at one of those friends house and everything was Vegan!!  Life’s little triumphs!
      Keep it up Michael!!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

    Wow, there’re no limits to what people do to food.

  • Ann

    So the real question is *how many* cheese manufacturers add these insects to their cheese? Saying “some” do is leaving a pretty wide latitude. It could be 1/10 of 1 percent or 99%. 

    I have been an ovo-lacto vegetarian since I was 16 (I’m 61 now) and would like to move towards being vegan. This will definitely help if these practices are widespread.

    PETA’s “Got Pus” campaign got me off cow’s milk lickety-split. Should I assume the percentages of cheese manufacturers doing this is high?

  • http://twitter.com/CocoBliss1 Coco Bliss

    W O W …positively disgusting!! …and perhaps just what I needed to kick my (minimal, thankfully) cheese consumption. Thanks!

  • Randy

    I guess Pizza Hut will not be using this information in their commercials.

  • Veguyan

    Leaping maggots!

  • Woodruffh

    Sure, this is gross, but the really disgusting thing about it is it is made with the milk of another species, from a mother who has been impregnated and had her baby taken and killed so we can use the mothers’s milk. Now that is disgusting!

  • Jatadc

    Love all the information on the site, but I have to say this is the first one lost on me – and credibility is everything.  So what does bugs used in cheese have to do with nutrition??  Is there a point that there is some negtive health outcome (and as others have asked, is it even commonly used? – doesn’t sound like it), or is this just to make cheese seem icky because, oh no, it might have a bug in it??

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-V-Grant/505030063 Chris Ⓥ Grant

      Did you not listen to the whole clip?

    • berryman

      The video did say the medical problem cheese eaters may suffer is dermatitis.  I’ve got that condition and it is not a minor problem for many people.
      I would also like to know how widespread this practice of adding mites is, the video leaves that question open and I feel like it would be more powerful if that were made clear. 

      • HemoDynamic, M.D.

        Leaping Maggots Berryman!  That the Dairy industry has done this practice even once should convince you that the only thing they care about is marketability, which leads to profitability.  If crap made cheese taste better they would for sure add it.  They could care less about your health! Watch this video about the USDA and how much they DON’T care about you and your health:  http://nutritionfacts.org/video/dietary-guidelines-science-versus-corporate-interests/

        • Melancolleen

          They COULDN’T care less. Seriously, the bottom line for everything is money. They couldn’t care less about your health, nor your children, nor the environment, nor the fact that you’re eating bugs you don’t know about…and apparently, most people would prefer to be in the dark because it’s inconvenient to know the truth. Imagine how inconvenient it is for the animals who live the dairy/meat industry horrors every moment of every day. 

          • HemoDynamic, M.D.

            I couldn’t agree more!

      • doyourownresearch

        It’s super uncommon. If you’re buying cheese from large producers you will never be exposed to it. The practice of adding mites is only used in the production of two very specific cheese, Mimolette and Milbenkase. The presence of cheese mites can happen in some small batch, artisan, aged cheeses but is considered a production flaw and is quickly and easily identified by a distinctive dusty rind. Any reputable cheesemonger will be able to identify the problem and will refuse delivery of the cheese.

    • doyourownresearch

      The only concern with the mites is that of dermatitis, a common skin reaction to those with mite allergies. The practice of adding mites is only used in the production of two VERY specific cheeses, Mimolette and Milbenkase and the mites are long dead by the time the cheese is distributed.

  • Jesus

    Feels good to be vegan! How’s those maggots and pus and blood and estrogen and mites and damn – GO VEGAN!

  • abe

    Who cut the cheese,,,,gross plus

  • Lisa

    Oy.  This adds a whole new level to what I call “glatt treif”, incredibly non-kosher. Between this and Starbucks owing up to using cochineal to color some of their products you wonder what else is “buggy” out there.

  • Phil

    After “The Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes” we’re probably looking at the “Attack Of The Leaping Cheese Maggots”!

  • Maria The Goose

    I am a bugatarian. I don’t eat animals or fish. I eat a lot of vegetables like grass and when I can get them….BUGS!

    You forgot something Doc. You said nothing about the nutrition benefits of maggots. Well, are they good or or they bad for me? I am a goose. Maybe they are OK for humans too?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sharmen.dawson Sharmen Sorsdahl Dawson

    Oh good lord. I’ve still been dabbling a bit with cheese but this has put the last nail in.

  • doyourownresearch

    The process of using cheese mites is used only for very specific cheeses, Mimolette and Milbernkase, and is considered a flaw in the production of any other cheese. The mites are long dead and gone when the cheese is consumed and the health risk is less than the risk you take sleeping on your own mattress where you’re exposed to far greater quantities of mites and is only relevant at all to those suffering from mite allergies. Casu Marzu, the maggot cheese, is more of a strange novelty than a staple foodstuff and the health risks are so obvious that it’s really only enjoyed by the most extreme gastronomes. Gross, yes, but it’s a strange, regional, traditional practice, not a standard industry practice and the avoidance of all cheese due to these two ridiculously specific processes, neither of which occur in the US, is just absurd.

    As for the rennet discussion in the posts above, remember that many cheeses are made with vegetable enzymes in place of traditional animal rennet.