Cheese History - Neolithic Age

History of Cheese Making – Neolithic Age

MICHEL GRENET/LOOK AT SCIENCES/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Cheese consumption predates recorded history, with scholars believing it began as early as 8000 BC, when goat and sheep were first domesticated in the area that is referred to as the Fertile Crescent (present-day Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Southern Turkey, Northern Iraq and Western Iran). As a result of the breeding of these animals for their meat and skins, Neolithic people found themselves with a potential source of additional food in the milk that these animals produced for their off-spring. However, it became clear very soon that it could only help with the raising of suckling babies as all adults were lactose intolerant. The lactase that is present in the stomachs of suckling animals and humans and that helps deal with the lactose in the milk, disappears as soon as the stomach receives regular food to deal with.

It probably took many generations of both animals and humans before milking the animals became a more or less established practice. In the course of this, Neolithic man would sometimes find themselves with a surplus of milk. This milk would then be left out and then naturally acidify and break out in curds and whey. They quickly discovered that the curd did not contain as much lactose as milk (due to the fact that bacteria that are always present in areas where milk is produced would break down the lactose to lactic acid and a large proportion of the lactose would be lost in the whey) and could be eaten in modest amounts without making them sick. This opened milk up as a new food source and Neolithic man lost no time in designing technology to be able to separate the curd from the whey. Princeton Professor Peter Bogucki was one of the first to find evidence of this on pottery shards.

To be continued.