Cheese is enjoyed around the world as a versatile food fit for luxury banquets as well as convenient snacks. Despite the massive popularity of cheese, many people never consider what an odd food it is. In essence, cheese is old milk that has been solidified and made pungent by extended bacterial growth. Who, in the history of the world, decided to try this food to begin with?
Evidence of Early Cheese-Making in Poland
Apparently, early humans in Eastern Europe may have been among the first cheese connoisseurs. According to researchers studying pottery shards uncovered in Kuyavia, Poland, humans who lived in the area around 7,500 years ago were making cheese. At Britain’s University of Bristol, scientists found fatty acids from cheese embedded in the cracks of the ceramics, which appear to be old-fashioned cheese strainers. In the cheese-making process, strainers are used to separate curds from milk and whey before forming the curds into blocks of cheese. This discovery is the first major evidence that ancient peoples made cheese, according to the study’s co-authors.
Advantages of Cheese in Early Diets
Of course, why did people decide to make cheese at all? They could have just enjoyed dairy in the form of milk. As some researchers have pointed out, cheese stores well and is easier to transport compared to milk. In cheese, ancient humans also had a rich, satisfying source of protein without having to resort to eating livestock animals, which were costly and hard to come by.
Another reason cheese would have been favored is its easy digestibility compared with milk. Early humans would not yet have adapted to drinking milk, so many were intolerant of lactose. Mammals, including humans, are able to consume dairy without problems soon after birth, but this ability naturally disappears as animals enter adulthood. In humans who are lactose intolerant, the lactose in milk causes major digestive upset, including gut bacteria imbalances, severe diarrhea and gas.
Cheese Enjoyment Through the Ages
By making milk into cheese, humans can consume curds that are virtually free of lactose, which is removed with the whey. Early humans would probably have been able to eat at least small amounts of cheese. Recognizing the value of this new food, human consumption of cheese increased as lactose tolerance improved at the same time. Today, most populations around the world are able to enjoy dairy, and especially cheese, on a regular basis without problems.
While we have a good idea of how humans progressed in their cheese consumption, we will never know exactly who was first to enjoy this wonderful food. Perhaps an open-minded caveman or woman decided to give old milk a try one day instead of going out for another energy-intensive hunt. As others realized that no ill effects were suffered from eating to the new food, maybe more people started to indulge until everybody was devouring it. This brings use to present day, when connoisseurs can enjoy an assortment of fine cheeses at New Jersey bat mitzvahs alongside family and friends.