12 December 2012

Neolithic cheese making: Evidence from the 6th Millennium, B.C.

It was exciting to hear some cheese news out of the world of archaeology this month.  (A dear friend to FDM was kind of enough to pass along the story).

An article published in the journal Nature (link here) describes some carbon-dating techniques and other analysis that a collaborative group from the U.S., England, and Poland performed on pottery sieves found at a Neolithic archaeology site in Eastern Poland.

Basically, this group report  evidence that these sieves, which date from ~5300 to 4900 B.C., were definitely used to process milk and were designed (hammered at) to be able to separate the whey-protein clumps from the typical fat-rich milk curds that result from milk spoilage. This method is similar to the way that many cheese-makers do it  today. 

To-date, this is the earliest evidence of human beings making cheese

These are the actual sieve fragments that contained milk residue that was  carbon-dated .
As all of you know, the production of cheese can be viewed as sort-of the controlled, variably nuanced, spoilage of milk. Historically, the process may have been put to use by farmers who wanted to preserve the milk for a longer period, as it was a precious commodity, and/or to make it more digestible or palatable.

The article's abstract includes the following of interest: "The processing of milk, particularly the production of cheese, would have been a critical development because it not only allowed the preservation of milk products in a non-perishable and transportable form, but also it made milk a more digestible commodity for early prehistoric farmer."

It turns out that pre-historic man was on to something pretty big.  It's a fascinating story all together.
Thank you, Keyrock and friends.  Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.  

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