The History of Cheese 🧀

The history of cheese

Cheese, eh? It’s the stuff of legend. It’s been there your entire life, you take it for granted, and you add it onto stuff like cheese on toast.

And whether it’s Red Leicester or cheese & onion crisps, the dairy product is there with its distinctive pungent quality.

We love the stuff. It’s just a shame it’s not so good for you… but that won’t stop us from taking a closer look at its long, long, long history.

What’s Cheese?

It’s a fairy product consisting of many flavours and textures that’s made out of presses milk curds. Cheese can be soft and spongy, stringy, or hard to the touch.

To look at it, you’ll find it often has a distinctive yellow quality. Like this:

🧀

But you can get cheese in huge varieties. Here’s a brief glimpse at the vastness of this foodstuff:

  • Brie
  • Camembert
  • Ricotta
  • Feta
  • Cheddar
  • Lancashire bomb cheese
  • Gorgonzola
  • Quark
  • Parmesan
  • Stilton
  • Cream cheese
  • Appenzella
  • Roquefort
  • Mozzarella
  • Vegan cheese

There are loads more, of course, and any combination of that lot can be combined with various foodstuffs.

Truly, cheese is a marvel! It’s very delicious and is lovely when cold or melted. It’s a popular topping on burgers (see cheeseburger history), pretty much essential for any pizza, or you can just eat it on its own.

What’s the History of Cheese?

It’ll be no surprise to learn cheese is an ancient food. The word is from Latin caseus, but its existence is before recorded history.

Yeah, cheese is from pre-history. Whoever first invented it we’ll never know, food historians suggest cheesemaking began around 8,000 BCE.

The likelihood is it began with the first domestication of animals.

But there isn’t any evidence for cheesemaking until 5,500 BCE. That dates to Kuyavia in Poland. But there’s also evidence form the stuff on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, plus other records in Switzerland from. Again, all of it from circa 6,000 BCE.

Now, that’s a bloody long time ago. But, sadly, there are no records from the era of dinosaurs to see whether they mastered cheesemaking. Evidently not! And so we must look to ancient humanity for our dairy fix.

The Cheesemakers of Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome

Yes, believe it or not archaeological digs have a lot of what we know about ancient cheese.

And that’s a lovely topic—ancient cheese.

The human love affair with this stuff has dragged on for many thousands of years. Truly, it’s followed humanity around arguably like few other foodstuffs (except maybe bread… or Pot Noodle sandwiches).

Egypt’s fondness for cheese has records set at 5,000 years ago.

Every great event in human history, you can name it right here, and cheese was there. Think of:

  • The assassination of Julius Caesar
  • The fall of the Western Roman Empire
  • William Shakespeare’s birth
  • The Great Fire of London
  • Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot
  • The American Revolution

You name the event, some cheese was there. Not many other foodstuffs can claim such an impressive historical record.

And there’s visual evidence of cheese from the Egyptian era across murals in various tombs, some dating to 2,000 BCE.

With the passage of time, cheesemaking became more sophisticated.

In Europe, it was clear the ancient Greeks knew of it as the dairy product appears in Greek mythology (Hellenic myths).

And in ancient Rome, cheese became a sign of sophistication. It was valued enormously in Roman society and traded with foreign nations.

Medieval Cheese & Post-Roman Europe

Cheese really started to get a foothold across the world in Medieval times, mingling with the Renaissance and Age of Discovery to propel itself worldwide.

During that time, many hundreds of years no less, cheeses we know and love today emerged.

We’re talking about Brie, Comté, Époisses etc. Some other notables include:

  • Cheddar emerged in the 1100s.
  • Parmesan was created in 1597
  • Gouda in 1697
  • Camembert in 1791

Every nation began creating variations on the stuff, ranging from Asia through to the Americas and back again.

There was llama cheese created by the Inca and other Andean cultures, but other farmstead cheeses that emerged as humans learned to farm the land to a greater extent. By which we mean artisan cheese, crafted delicately by hand.

Basically, cheese had a steady an all-encompassing spread across the globe. Kind of like the Black Death, but without any of the absolute horror of it.

Just tasty cheese. 🧀

Cheese in the Modern Era

The first factory purely for cheese production actually opened in 1815. That was in Switzerland. But it was America who took things to a new dimension.

A dairy farmer by the name of Jesse Williams began an assembly-line process in 1851 and that caught on big time.

Cheese was unstoppable once it hit the 20th century.

With industrialisation came globalisation and mass production. It’s a fairly similar story to many foodstuff history. Total global domination awaited and mass profits along the way.

Those fancy cheese bell wrappings you see? Well, they were invented in the early 20th century and helped prolonged the life of the stuff.

And with refrigerators there came even more need for the cheese.

During World War II, factory-made cheese became the norm with the war shaping yet another future human staple.

And now? Well, we found some stats for you on American cheese consumption and revenue:

  • From 1977-2017, your average American upped their annual cheese intake from 16-37 pounds
  • In 2021, the retail sector for cheese totalled sales of $12.1 billion

This stuff is big business, man. That’s why it’s important to embrace the stuff. It’s here to stay, so you’d better bloody get used to it.

And Now For Some Fast Cheese Facts!

Before we round out this feature, let’s explore some of the common discussion points around everyone’s favourite dairy product.

Is the Moon Made of Cheese?

No, the Moon isn’t made out of cheese. Its lunar surface is composed of:

  • Oxygen
  • Silicon
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Aluminium
  • Chromium
  • Titanium
  • Manganese

This idea seemed to come about in 1546 thanks to The Proverbs of John Heywood. In that it be written:

“The moon is made of a greene cheese.”

And so this idea has stuck around. For the record, NASA has officially debunked this theory and did so in 2006.

That’s the science opinion, of course, and who ever believes that nonsense? What you need is real, tangible, physical evidence!

According to A Grand Day Out (1989), yes the Moon is made out of cheese. And Wallace & Gromit is a much more reliable resource than scientists with genius minds and fact finding. Bloody halfwits spreading their bloody propaganda…

What’s the Smelliest Cheese?

The most putrid stinking cheese on Earth belongs to a French cheese called Époisses de Bourgogne.

It’s aged for six weeks in brine and brandy.

Once it’s let loose upon society, its repugnant stench is so fierce it’s actually banned on French public transport. Merde!

Just to note, cheese stench sometimes comes from the mould inside the stuff. But it’s usually the rinds that cause the colossal whiff.

It’s the brine rubbed on the rinds that attracts bacteria (Brevibacterium) to the cheese, which is the same type of stuff that congregates on human feet.

And that’s why, yes, stupid big man feet can smell like cheese. Hurray, right?

Cheese isn’t the only food that smells gross, but tastes great. Think of fish, garlic, durian, kimchi, boiled eggs etc.

But cheese often wins out because it tastes so great, stinks so bad, and is probably the most common (or relatable) stinky food we all eat around the world.

What’s the Most Dangerous Cheese?

You must fear casu martzu (rotten cheese), the illegal cheese of Sardinia.

The Italian government outlawed it in 1962 as it’s so dangerous. It’s infected with parasites so, yeah, that’s the problem with this one.

If you decide you want to eat it, there’s a small chance some of the maggots in the cheese survive your stomach’s acid digestive process.

This means, indeed, you could end up with some maggots crawling around in your intestines. That can lead to accidental myiasis, the infection of fly larva in your tissue. Yay!

If that sounds like a bit too much of a gross risk, then maybe just stick to Babybel.

How Do You Make Cheese?

There are homemade cheeses you can get together quite quickly, but professional cheesemaking is like beekeeping or winemaking (vinification).

By which we mean, you need a lot of spare time to do it. But if you’ve got several weeks-12 months to burn, cheesemaking is right up your street.

Like, if you wanted to make cheddar cheese you’d need:

3 gallons of milk,
1 packet of mesophilic culture,
3ml of single strength liquid rennet,
Salt,
Half a tablespoon of calcium chloride (for pasteurised milk).

It’s not the easiest looking process to be fair, so if you do want to do this we suggest you go off and study some cookbooks.

But cheesemaking is possible if you want to do it on an amateur level.

Just be aware it’s also pretty easy to head down to your local supermarket and buy a slab of the stuff. Bit of a time saver, eh?

Dispense with some gibberish!

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