Cheese Across the Ages

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The archaeology of cheese

When people began to commit ideas to stone and papyrus, they left solid evidence of an already mature cheesemaking tradition. Sumerian bas-reliefs from about 3,500 B.C. show the milking of cows and curdling of milk. Milk-curdling vessels dating from 5,000 B.C. have been found on the shores of Lake Neufchâtel in Switzerland. And cheesemaking is mentioned several times in the Old Testament, as well as in Homer.

Chances are King Tut enjoyed cheese as well. The tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs show traces of what is believed to be cheese.

Cheese in the Middle Ages

Home-made cheeses began to emerge during the 13th century, as farm women developed their own varieties. They soon recognized the efficiency of pooling their milk and labour. And so cooperative dairies were formed in which entire villages or even regions combined their milk and shared in the cheese. The first such cooperative recorded was in 1267 in Déservilliers, France.

During the 16th century, many other classic cheeses were created, including Brie, Gruyère and Emmental. According to La Ménagerie de Paris, a manual written for the education of well-bred and marriageable young women, it's fairly simple to choose a "good and honest cheese. [One] should avoid one that is too pale like Helen, weepy like Mary Magdalene or with too many eyes like Argus, yet favour one that is heavy like an ox, firm under the thumb and has a thick rind."

Cheese in Elizabethan times

Across the Channel, during Elizabethan times, Shakespeare may well have nibbled on a piece of Cheshire cheese as he penned Hamlet. This distinguished cheese, enjoyed by Britons since Roman times, is the grandfather of our own equally distinguished Canadian Cheddar.

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