Culture Shock: Italian Worm Cheese

We have a saying in Italian. Non c’è niente di nuovo sotto il sole. (There is nothing new under the sun.) And yes, I know it’s from the Bible. But I also know that King Solomon, who wrote that, didn’t live in a foreign land. Otherwise, I wonder if he might not have changed it to: “There is something new under the sun. Every day, and in countless ways!” 

We were in the deep south, at my father-in-law’s home. [Read: Italy’s Deep South →] A dear man, but eccentric, and prone to grumpiness. Having lived alone many years, he had the tendency to mutter under his breath a lot. Mario says he was mostly cursing. He didn’t like the priests or the saints, and seemed to blame them for most of his ills.

And while I know he loved me, I think I was at times a trial to him. Always cleaning and moving his things. Even throwing away his prized pair of rusty scissors! How was I to know he treasured those totally rusted shears? We bought him a new pair, but I’m sure they never seemed as good…

“What affects men sharply about a foreign nation is not so much finding or not finding familiar things. It is rather not finding them in the familiar place.”

G.K. Chesterton

Italy was such a place to me.

Take our legal documents, for example.

It wasn’t so much the wait; that happens in every nation. But a month of waiting for one simple ID card? Unthinkable!

Or laundry.

No nation on earth is without its laundry days. But only on a specific day of the week? Unheard of! “Why do they change their clothes so often,” the neighbors questioned, none too discretely. “What a shameful waste of water!” Didn’t they realize, I wondered, that five people make a lot of laundry?

Then there were the tablecloths!

One never, ever sits down to a meal without the standard cloth covering. Even if it’s the same (dirty) cloth all week long! But my plastic tablecloth? “Slovenly,” that’s what they said. “Hey,” I figured, “At least it saves on water!” But they never seemed to notice that small act of frugality…

Papà had peculiar eating habits, as well. Which at long last explained some things about my husband! I sometimes wonder, with their love of hot pepper and using bread as spoons, it they’re not part Arab!

It was his love of meat, however, that took me off-guard.

Perhaps it was having lived through two world wars, and eating half-cooked potatoes to stave off hunger that did it. Meat was proof of well-being, and one mustn’t ever waste even a bit of it. All (or most of) the innards. Cow’s stomach and tongue, pig’s feet, livers, gizzards, lamb’s brain.

Even rabbit eyes! Yep, Papà ate the eyes. I’ll save you all the nasty details. But he did love to tease our kids with them!

Let me tell you Solomon: Everything was new under this Mediterranean sun.

From the super strong espresso, to specific laundry days. Unheard of government bureaucracy and bottles of seven-day deodorant!

But the one familiar thing that affected me most sharply were the worms. The Italian jumping worms!

Now, I’m a country girl, raised on the farm. Went fishing and played with snakes. But those worms nearly scared the wits out of me!

Cheese in the cabinet? Somewhat odd. But with worms jumping out? It had gone really bad! “Throw it out!” I shrieked. “Get it out of here right away!” But Mario insisted we keep it. “Just in case.” We didn’t want a repeat episode of The Scissors…

“Come on dear,” I told him. “Get real. Even your father could never want cheese with worms in it! He’ll thank us for getting rid of it!”

“Throw it out?” Papà bellowed when we showed it to him. “The worms are the best part. Have a taste!” We didn’t stay to watch him eat. But I guess it was part of his war-years frugality. Any and all food must be eaten. Especially such rare and precious protein! Surely those worms were chock full of it!

Some of the things under this new Italian sun really took a lot of getting used to!

But determined to make this new land Home, I learned to look past the strangeness and unpleasantness. (Grateful, of course, that I wasn’t forced to eat everything!)

And you know, Solomon was right. Nothing is new. It’s already been seen or done somewhere, by someone. But if we accept them, all the new things under our own sun (no matter where we are), can teach us a lot, broaden our horizons, and help us grow!

Because even storm clouds can have silver linings – if we but look for them!

About Worm Cheese:

Called Casu Marzu, worm cheese is a true Sardinian delicacy. So if you get to Sardinia, you might want to try some! But watch out, the larvae in it can jump up to six inches! And the ammoniated flavor is so strong it scorches the tongue a bit, leaving an aftertaste that lasts for hours. Which I’m sure is true. I had a bad aftertaste without even eating any! 🙂  Oh, and a final word of warning: casu marzu is no longer allowed in some areas.

17 thoughts on “Culture Shock: Italian Worm Cheese

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  1. On laundry: when I was growing up in small town midwest US, Monday was “wash day” and all the clotheslines were full on Mondays. The worm cheese is a fun story (but I wouldn’t try it either!)


    1. Interesting Sandy! I’d forgotten that years ago they used to have wash day in the USA. I guess modern machines are what changed all that, and that’s one change I gladly embrace!! In looking back, the worm cheese was fun. At the time it was just horrifying!! I was brave enough to try snails – but not worms!! Not those or any others! Thankfully, Italians won’t usually try to force you to eat things you simply don’t like!!


  2. Oh my, I love cheese but I could not eat that. Laundry day… I’ve been running the washer for 3 days, but I think I have caught up with the spring laundry! Winter sheets are put away and summer sheets are on beds, snowsuits are washed and put away, and all the usual too! Time to pack up the too small clothes again. I think the whole clan had a growth spurt! Bless you!


    1. Wow, that’s a lot of laundry. I’ve been washing wool blankets to put them away for summer. But there are only 2 of us!! We are major cheese lovers too Linda, but we couldn’t even bear the thought of eating that stuff!! Besides Italy has so many really yummy cheeses!!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Love to read about your adventures in Italy! Isn’t it funny that some things which make perfect sense to us (as in doing laundry when the basket is full) do not make sense to others of a different culture? Of course, the opposite is true, too. Yet in learning to navigate the differences with grace, we do grow. We develop maturity. Thank you, Sheila!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, the doing laundry only on certain days has pretty much gone by the wayside. And it may have only existed in the small towns. But that is the way it was when we arrived here 30 years ago!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Can’t blame you Lynn, so did we! But Papà sure did love them!! I’m glad you enjoy the stories… we’ve learned so much through each of these experiences!


    1. I’m not surprised, lol! I think most people will pass, as did we. But you never know, it seems there is often one adventurous soul out there who will try anything at least once!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, I’m so glad! I think one of the best things about missionary blogs is that we can an inside look of the countries!! Love your blog too. Always uplifting!

        Liked by 1 person

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