The Origin of Cheese: Who and How?

by Maison Morand

Cheese has been enjoyed for thousands of years, probably as long as humans have been herding animals. Some speculate it may have been first created by accident when milk stored in a ruminant (most likely sheep) stomach curdled from the rennet, an enzyme present in the stomach lining. Others speculate it was discovered after milk was salted or sprinkled with an acid like fruit juice; both of those actions would have caused the milk to curdle as well. It would have been a welcome way to preserve perishable milk.

The first milk used for cheese was from goats or sheep, as these were most prevalent in the Mediterranean areas of the Fertile Crescent. There are ancient Sumerian records going back as far as 4000 BCE showing they ate cheese. Egyptians as well were fond of it, as evidenced in cheesy remains found in clay pots dating to 2300 BCE!

The Bible has references to cheese, with perhaps the most famous tale recounting David carrying cheese to his troops just prior to him slaying Goliath. But, very recently, an even older cheese discovery was made much farther north when a cache of 7500- year-old pottery cheese strainers were found in modern-day Poland. These Neolithic people were dairy farmers, not just hunters, so their relationship with animals is more complex than was once supposed.

Although remains of other dairy farms have been found in Neolithic ruins, this was the first that showed evidence of cheese making. 


Excerpt from the short book "Cheese" (Pocket Guide Club, 2018).