There probably is no scientific explanation for Andrea and Giannetto’s love for caligù despite its harsh flavor, hairy texture, and visceral origins, nor the wider world’s continued love affair with cheeses and a host of other acquired, often challenging tastes. Instead, the transition from survival foods, eaten as a matter of necessity, to delicacies, preserved as a matter of identity, is just one of those muddy habits of the human psyche. History transmutes survival into culture, one of the most widespread and effective acts of alchemy we know how to work upon ourselves, using nothing but the blunt force of time and repetition.

It’s a magic that’s unconsciously taught to and practiced upon us when a fermented paste is smeared over our bread as children. Or when we drink a fermented, alcoholic swill as teenagers, emulating the adults around us. Or when we boast of our sophistication with pickled foods as adults. But it’s hard to work that same magic with traditions too far removed from our own times, origins, and experiences once a palate’s settled. That’s why, for many of us outsiders, eating a mouthful of caligù is an educational experience. It brings us back to the horrific roots of one of our most ubiquitous foodstuffs, giving us a sudden, stark window into the craft and evolution that stands between stomach milk and Kraft. But it’s not a taste we’re about to acquire for ourselves anytime soon.

— Mark Hay, writing in Roads & Kingdoms, travels to Sardinia to experience the (literal) underbelly of cheese, in an attempt to understand a hunk of rotten and fermented milk has become such a staple food for so many people.

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