To whom do we credit delicious cheese, the most magnificent food creation of all time? It’s hard to say. But we’re grateful to those ancient innovators, and to all the gastronomic explorers whose brave experimentation brought us the delightful dairy diversity we enjoy today.
7,000 B.C. - Historians agree that cheese was born around then, but they have divergent theories about how.
- Some food historians guess that cheese was discovered accidentally when someone stored milk in a container made from the stomach of an animal. Rennet, an enzyme found inside the stomachs of ruminant animals, causes milk to coagulate, separating into curds (solids) and whey (liquid). Adult humans living in the Fertile Crescent (what is now Iraq) around the time cheese is thought to have been invented would have been lactose intolerant, but they did give goat and sheep milk to babies and toddlers, so this theory is certainly plausible.
- Another theory also chalks the first batch of cheese up to happy accident, albeit under slightly different circumstances. Temperatures were warm in the Fertile Crescent at the time of the first cheese. So milk stored in pottery, which was newly invented and growing in popularity, would have coagulated quickly in the heat. Maybe someone was simply curious, hungry or adventurous enough to see what the resulting slippery, solid curds tasted like. He or she would have discovered that unlike milk, which would have been impossible to digest because of the nearly universal lactose intolerance among adults at the time, cheese was easier on the stomach. That’s because most of the lactose, which is the natural sugar in milk that’s difficult for many adults to digest, drains off with the whey. This discovery put dairy foods on the menu for adult humans for the first time.
What happened next? How did the rest of the world find out about the glory of cheese? Read part two of our cheese timeline later this week!