The History of Cheese
With evidence of its processing reaching as far back as 5,500 BCE Poland, experts say the first cheese most likely resulted by accident when someone used a sheep’s stomach pouch to carry milk. As he or she went, the heat of the sun and the rennet lining the sheep’s stomach would have caused the milk to separate into whey and curds, and the lucky carrier would have discovered a delicious result worth replicating. From there, it wasn’t long before cheese became a must-have staple food.
By 2,000 BCE, feasts required cheese, murals were being painted of cheese, and multiple varieties of cheese were being enjoyed throughout ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. By this time, cheese had already moved away from the first, most basic, very sour, salty, feta- or cottage cheese-like varieties to include a wide spectrum of firmer wheel cheeses. And after Rome’s fall, cheese diversified even further yet.
As travel and trading nearly came to a stand-still, the resulting cultural “islands” with their popular local dairy animals that ate from the local weeds and grasses, spurred the creation of regional cheeses, unique to the location they were produced. Cheddar, Parmesan, Gouda, and Camembert are just a fraction of the distinctive local cheeses we owe to this movement, yet without reinvigorated trade and the industrial movement -the first cheese factory opening in 1815 Switzerland, assembly-line cheese production in 1851 America, and a process for controlling bacterial exposure in 1860 – we may have never had a chance to taste them.
Today, we can go to any well-stocked grocery and find hundreds of cheese varieties from the cheapest economy cheeses to the most sophisticated cheese from around globe, and still cheese hasn’t stopped evolving yet. Inventive cheese producers are constantly exploring new methods, flavors, and twists on classic cheeses, and a growing movement toward historical and forgotten cheeses is being pursued by little artisan farms.