Hear us out—edible insects aren’t as intimidating as you might think. In fact, a 2013 United Nations report estimated that at least two billion people worldwide eat insects regularly. Once you get past the mental block, you’ll find that insects are packed with protein and nutrients, plus interesting flavors that play nicely with cheese (really!). There’s an enticing sustainability argument, too: Insects have a much lower environmental impact than traditional protein sources like beef or chicken.
Where to start? Online marketplaces, like EntoMarket and Entomo Farms, make buying edible insects easy. The critters can be bought live, but ready-to-serve packages are often less daunting for beginners. If you’re interested in experimenting with entomophagy but find that appearance remains an issue, consider premade foods. Austin’s Delysia Chocolatier incorporates bugs into artisanal chocolates that conceal the creatures, though you’ll still get the protein boost and added flavor.
Start with cricket flour, a fairly neutral powder of ground dried crickets. Use it to add protein to homemade pastas, cookies, crackers, and smoothies, or try premade cricket bars, crackers, and chips, which are increasingly easy to source.
Crickets have a slight roasted-nut flavor that plays nicely with the cranberries and seeds in Delysia’s dark chocolate cricket bark—match it with a fruity blue to highlight the bright berry notes. Marco Parrinello of Crické, an Italian producer of cricket products, recommends pairing cricket crackers with fresh ricotta for a more savory take: The soft creaminess and hint of lemon in Salvatore Bklyn’s whole-milk version balances the crickets’ slight bitterness.
Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Ewe’s Blue + Delysia cricket chocolate bark
Salvatore Bklyn Whole Milk Ricotta + cricket crackers
David Gordon, author of The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 1998), has been doing bug cooking demos for the past 20 years. “Ants have a very complex flavor, like a mix of citrus, soy sauce, and black pepper,” says Gordon, so stick with milder cheeses that won’t overpower their flavor. For a literal take on the childhood snack “ants on a log,” he pairs Chinese black ants with mascarpone.
Chef Hugo Ortega of Houston’s Xochi takes a similar approach: He recommends amping up salsa or mole with a dash of ants, then topping with cotija for a salty finish.
Vermont Creamery Mascarpone + black ants
V&V Supremo Sierra Cotija + black ants
Mealworms have a mushroomy taste, says Gordon, so opt for bloomy rinds that have complementary earthy notes (the creamy paste also adds a nice contrast to the crunchy roasted mealworms). Consider Green Dirt Farm’s Woolly Rind, a soft-ripened sheep’s milk round with aromas of fresh soil and forest floor and notes of buttery mushrooms.
For Delysia Chocolatier’s Nicole Patel, mealworms are reminiscent of buttery prawns. She recommends pairing her mealworm truffles—which get added flavor from Chinese five-spice and ginger—with Emmentaler. The firm texture of this Swiss cheese is just right for nibbling, and its slight bite at the finish echoes the ginger in the truffle.
Green Dirt Farm Woolly Rind + mealworms
Emmentaler AOP + Delysia mealworm chocolate truffle
Find it on the menu at Xochi in Houston, Texas
“Queso del rancho with worms, ants, and grasshoppers. The smoky, earthy flavor of the insects is enhanced by the mild, creamy flavor of queso de rancho. They also add a little texture.” — Hugo Ortega, chef
Photography by ShutterWorx/iStockphoto.com