It was a dark and stormy night when a tired old wizard threw the last ingredient into his bubbling cauldron. The reaction was immediate. The green liquid bubbled and frothed, emitting flashes of light, heat, and a profuse amount of smelly pink smoke. Holding his breath as the mixture expanded, rattling the poor pot and shaking the table, suddenly, a pure, golden substance landed gently onto his outstretched palm. Cheese. At last.
Little did he know, his life would never be the same. The catalyst being cheese in all its astounding variety of textures, colors, scents, and tastes. That mysterious substance gave an entirely new meaning to food. Burgers. Pasta. Pizza. Tacos. Snacks. Hot pockets. Ahhh, all the endless possibilities…
~8000 BCE — 7000 BCE
Jk. That wasn’t what actually happened (though I’m sure many can relate to the wizard’s reaction to cheese). Who knows for sure? The culinary delight, cheese, was invented before recorded history, around when sheep were first domesticated and somewhere in the Middle East or Europe. In fact, it was probably discovered by accident. When people transported fresh milk in the leak-proof organs of animals like cows, sheep, and buffaloe, they noticed something. Rennin, an enzyme in the digestive fluid of said mammals, curdled the milk. Combined with the sloshing, stirring motion caused by the transportation of that time, and heat, the milk separated into solid curds and watery whey. (Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey…) Now, this was about a millennia before refrigeration, so people figured that, along with a little salt, curdling milk was a perfect way to preserve it. Behold the glorious birth of cheese.
The first recorded recipe for cheese was found in the Temple of The Great Goddess of Life, in Mesopotamia, carved into stone. Like cottage cheese, these cheeses were soft and salty.
~800 BCE — 1453 CE
While the Greeks weren’t busy with art or philosophy, and the Romans weren’t busy conquering yet another city, they enjoyed their cheese (probably with a little wine). The Greeks loved Feta cheese. By then, cheese was a part of life, eaten fresh, and made daily in a wide variety. The Roman Empire, which considered cheesemaking a valuable craft, contributed much to the history of cheese. Cheesemakers found ways to make cheeses drier, which meant that cheeses, traded throughout the vast Roman Empire, could last longer.
~1300 CE — 1500 CE
And so cheese and cheesemaking arrived in Northern Europe around the Late Middle Ages! France created over 400 different types of cheeses and popular cheeses today, such as Cheddar, Parmesan, Gouda, and Camembert. The climate of Northern Europe, slightly colder than the Mediterranian, allowed cheesemakers to use less salt, which led to creamier and more ripened cheeses. King Henry VIII (the one who had six wives) closed down the monasteries in Britain for religious reasons. Monasteries were centers of cheesemaking, and cheese production came to a brief halt. Like us, the ordinary people and the royals had quite the appetite for cheese, maybe more, since they didn’t allow the tradition of cheesemaking to die out. Still, cheese was produced locally in smaller batches.
1815 CE-1850 CE
The first cheese factory was built in the birthplace of Swiss cheese, Switzerland. Around 1850, there were two more brie-lliant discoveries. Scientists found a way to produce rennin, the enzyme necessary for curdling cheese, artificially. Up until then, cheesemakers could only obtain rennin from animals. This development allowed standardized cheesemaking to spread wildly. Louis Pasteur, a French scientist, made soft cheeses safer to eat through pasteurization. Pasteurization heats fresh milk then cools it, killing the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis and other rather unpleasant germs. Cheese factories made their way to Wisconson, America, appropriately nicknamed “The Cheese State,” and other states. Partnering with dairy farms to obtain fresh milk, and producing cheese assembly-line style, the factories met the voracious appetites for cheese.
1900 CE — Present Time
By World War II, factory-made cheeses (like those bags of shredded mozzarella or those pretty orange squares on burgers) had all but replaced artisan cheeses. Over time, a few dedicated artisan cheesemakers are reintroducing artisan cheeses back into our lives. From the backs of camels and wooden carts in a time before written records to the labs of many dedicated scientists, cheese has made an incredible journey throughout the ages. Cheese has, and will, continue changing lives and bringing people together through savory dishes made possible only with cheese.
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