Dec 1, 2013

Bitter Pill (I Wish): Castinacia


I have a sinus infection, and the doctor prescribes me an antibiotic. This seems like modern medicine...until she gives me the instructions and I get my prescription filled. It is a sachet of powder that I am to take dry. Already this does not sound promising. But the reality turns out to be far, far worse. Oh. My. God. These people are living in the Middle Ages. What the hell?! Have they not heard of capsules, or coated pills?!

It's about two tablespoons of something the texture of course salt. But it has an astringent, chemical taste that sends an immediate signal to my brain that I am being poisoned and, because of the texture, simultaneously gagged and asphyxiated. Have you ever tried to crush up a Sudafed for a child, hide it in yogurt or ice cream, then wondered why she was so melodramatic and gagged at the taste? If not, you should try it, because it's so vile the words "bitter", "chemical", and "disgusting" are completely inadequate. This antibiotic tastes like that, except I have two tablespoons of it, without the ice cream or yogurt.

Is the a photo of a pile of my antibiotics? Or of salt? You can't tell until you shove it down your throat in a dry, powdery, vomit-inducing heap. But I bet the salt would taste better.

I am supposed to take another follow-up sachet two weeks later, but it is so god-awful, I refuse to fill the prescription for it. I don't even care what form of crazy superbacteria I'm inadvertently creating inside my body. Any bacteria that can withstand that disgusting medicine deserves a second chance.

It's clear that this is a country that is less "spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down" and more "take your medicine like a man." Well, the next time my doctor tries to give me a sachet, I'm going to tell her to go gag on it. And if I sound a little bitter, I am. But not as bitter as the medicine.

THE CHEESE: Castinacia

This Corsican raw sheep milk cheese is extremely hard to find. Not in encyclopedias, nor online. Nor in stores, for that matter. And thank goodness. I only wish I had never found it, either. Its orange crust is due not only to mold and to the manner in which it was prepared, but also to chestnut flour. Very little else grows on the chaparral landscape of the Mediterranean island, so they evidently have figured out a lot of use for chestnuts. This counts as a French cheese since Corsica is technically part of France, but don't ever say that to a Corsican.

You see that little chunk taken off the half-round of cheese? Well, that's all that gets eaten from this cheese because we just don't like it. It is pungent and unbearably salty. I give the remains to my friend Mei, another cheese lover in Paris, to see if her family likes it any better than we do. She puts it in her bag, encased in many layers of plastic, and forgets about it for a week or so. The sales-job I had done on it ("Worst cheese I've ever tried! Disgusting! Here -- taste it!"), along with the fact that the best possible cheese might not do well enclosed in a gym bag for a week, seals this cheese's doom. Needless to say, it ends up in the garbage, and we'll never know if she would have liked it or not.


I find Castinacia nearly as disgusting as the antibiotic powder. Nearly. It is stinky, that almost goes without saying, but stinky alone is not enough to turn me off of cheese. This one has the added "bonus" of being extremely, unbearably, torturously salty.


  1. Hello Anthony, your post reminds me how coddled we are in the US. My family is from Japan and the health system there, while admirably universal and practically free, is medieval at times. They also prescribe those powders and I've found that if you create a small funnel out of a post-it or something, put the powder on/in it, then slide the dose all at once to the back of your throat, then chase it down with a gulp of water, it helps...some. ;) Once that's done go and reward yourself with some chouquettes or other pastry we can't get in the US.

    Happy travels & gastronomy!



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