No-one knows for sure when cheese first appeared. The best guess is sometime after 7000BC, when mankind began to domesticate, and milk, livestock. One school of thought suggests the earliest cheese was little more than sour milk, left to go off under scorching sunshine. However, as anyone who has left a bottle of milk out for too long will know, a whiff of sour milk is hardly likely to have you thinking you have just invented a new delicacy.
Another story, tells the tale of an Arab who put milk into a sheep’s stomach pouch before journey into the desert. A long ride later he went to take a drink, only to find the milk had reacted with the rennet in the pouch and had separated into curds and whey. However it happened, cheese made enough of an impact to feature regularly in early literature. The Old Testament tells us David was carrying ten cheeses the day he slew Goliath, and there is evidence cheese was used as a form of wage in both the Roman and Viking societies. In 700BC Homer, in his epic poem “The Odyssey,” refers to the Cyclops making cheese by using a rush basket called a formoi, a word which later became the more familiar fromage. In the early days the mystery of cheese making was kept a closely guarded secret.
In Egypt for example, the method was only known to the priests. As time went on, European monks began experimenting with techniques to ripen and age cheese, and by the 7th Century dairy associations began to appear in the Alps and other mountain regions. Cheeses were named after the regions where they were made, and some of those regional cheeses survive to this day, such as Gorgonzola. Until the 19th Century, cheese was primarily hard, but in the 1850’s soft cheeses began to appear, swiftly followed by pasteurisation, and mass produced cheese arrived. Today, cheese is considered a food staple, with there being enough varieties to eat a different one each day for 2 – 3 years. Cheese has come a long way from its humble origins, and is now so much a part of our culture that even wedding cakes are being made from stacked cheeses.
Keep being ewenique!