I found this great article here.
Not before breakfast!
Not into exotic foods? These bizarre ‘delicacies’ are definitely not for you
MATHEW McCARTHY, RECORD STAFF
(Jun 16, 2007)
How far would you travel to sink your teeth into an exotic cheese seething with maggots?
Would you go further for coffee brewed from beans that had passed through the rear-end of a rainforest beastie?
How about tasting a golden oil made from a nut excreted by a tree-climbing goat?
If you’d asked Massimo Marcone those questions a while ago, he might have hesitated, too.
But that was then and this is now.
Marcone, 43, a friendly, energetic food scientist at University of Guelph, has made it his specialty investigating — and eating — some of the world’s most bizarre food delicacies.
He wants to know if they’re really what devotees believe them to be.
Or, to put it more crassly, why don’t we get sick testing some of these drinks and foods?
“In many cases, the research that I do is research that first makes you laugh and then makes you think,” Marcone said.
“These are all common foods with an uncommon twist.”
Granted, most of us will never risk illness from Indonesia’s Kopi Luwak coffee.
Also known as “scat coffee,” it’s reputed, at $600 a pound, to be the most expensive beverage in the world.
Italy’s Casu Frazigu Cheese, a.k.a. rotten or maggot cheese, is $100 a pound.
Perhaps a little edible bird’s nest from Malaysia, made from the saliva of a swiftlet bird, would be more to your liking. It’s $80 a bowl.
Marcone relates his edible adventures in a new book called In Bad Taste? The Adventures and Science Behind Food Delicacies.
It’s a journal and a travelogue, seasoned heavily with scientific exploration.
The scientist was introduced to the gastronomic dark side a few years ago when a TV producer asked him to research Kopi Luwak coffee.
He thought it was an urban myth when he heard how the coffee was made. A nocturnal, catlike creature called a palm civet in Indonesia eats only the sweetest and ripest red coffee cherries, he was told.
The fruit is ingested, leaving the coffee beans to travel through the gastrointestinal tract and end up in a pile of poop under the trees.
People collect the beans, and wash, roast and brew them into a coffee that is in such high demand that there’s a waiting list to pay big bucks for even a little.
Taking no chances, Marcone wore a bio-containment hood to test the beans. He used a high-powered scanning electron microscope and other state-of-the-art equipment in his lab.
The results whetted his curiosity, if not his appetite.
The beans were less contaminated than normal beans, despite the fact that they’d been found in feces.
Marcone brewed himself a cup. It tasted like dark chocolate; it was earthy and musty, he wrote.
But he still didn’t know why the beans were so clean or what possessed people 200 years ago to start poking through poo to get them.
For those answers, he’d have to go to the Indonesian island of Sumatra and see for himself.
“To me, food was not merely sustenance, but something more: it was a vibrant, evolving piece of history, and my job was to unlock its secrets,” wrote Marcone.
His career as exotic food myth-buster was launched.
The role has taken the assistant food science professor on a roller-coaster ride to Indonesia, Ethiopia, Morocco, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Italy, Thailand and Mexico.
He has joined the hunt for the elusive morel in Canada and the U.S. Now he has his own patch. He won’t tell you where.
Outside North America, Marcone encountered gangsters, smugglers and a tribe with a headhunting history. He boated on a crocodile-infested river, met marauding rats, and escaped becoming an Ethiopian lion’s lunch.
He visited secret locations surrounded by perimeter walls and guard dogs; and he fought claustrophobia to float in a leaky boat through a dark cave filled with water.
“Would I do it again? Never. It was the longest hour of my life.”
He felt the risks. The tsunami took friends in Indonesia, two days after he’d left the country. Eight United Nations workers were murdered a few kilometres away from him, a couple of hours before he reached their location, along the Sudanese border.
He also experienced the beauty of rainforests, and hospitality in unexpected places from unexpected people.
Media have called Marcone the Indiana Jones of the food world.
But Marcone, who grew up in Guelph, feels nothing like a raider of the lost ark.
He admits he’s as nervous as anyone around rats that aren’t caged, and he misses his daily showers and clean clothes when he’s in the jungle.
He says he’s more like Mr. Magoo.
“I’m an extremely shy person,” said Marcone, an articulate, soft-spoken man with a sense of humour, a strong faith in God and a passion for collecting authentic Edison lamps.
“I’m very careful. I don’t take high risks. I’m a slow driver,” he said. “I drive a Honda Civic.”
He is also intensely curious. He’s a collector of sorts.
“Just wait until you see my office,” he laughs.
Open the door to Marcone’s office in the university’s food science building, and you’ll see a large display case of Edison lamps dating back as far as 1880.
More glass cabinets contain exotic foods he has tested, and two stuffed civet cats (road kill and death by natural causes) peer at a visitor, while a huge whale tooth leans against the wall.
There are dozens of photographs and teaching awards; and a large neon sign, given to him by admiring students, flashes: “Ask Massimo.”
The university values Marcone’s gift for teaching and his ability to communicate interesting research to the public.
“He is an award-winning teacher who delights and inspires students in the classroom,” said Maureen Mancuso, vice-president academic at University of Guelph.
He’s a “a dedicated, hard-working researcher whose work has broad appeal in Canada and around the world.”
Marcone prodded civet feces in Indonesia, pried empty nests off cliff walls in Malaysia and watched goats climb argan trees in Morocco.
In Italy, he chomped down on the famous Casu Frazigu cheese whose sale is outlawed by the Italian government, but which can be found at local celebrations.
While Marcone knew the cheese might smell, he was unprepared for the noise it made.
The cheese woke him one night. Thinking he heard the
clatter of rain, Marcone dashed out on the balcony, where he had placed it, to rescue the smelly specimen.
It wasn’t raining. What he’d heard was the sound of maggots jumping and hitting the inside of the cheese container.
“Believe it or not, they go like this, tuk, tuk, tuk,” he said, imitating the sound. “You know when they’re going to jump. They curl up and spring.”
Marcone needed a little help eating the hyperactive cheese after his tests showed it was safe.
“They refrigerated them so they kind of fall asleep,” he said. “It actually tasted almost like Asiago cheese. It had a bite to it.”
Through his adventures and painstaking lab analysis, Marcone was able to get to the bottom of each delicacy and touch on its cultural significance.
What’s next? Marcone is interested in testing foods that have been eaten by indigenous peoples in Canada and Australia — perhaps roasted beaver tail, whale oil or honey ants.
He’ll go almost anywhere a new food delicacy takes him.
“This is the best time of my life.”