Aged cheeses are delicious, although 7,500 years old might be a bit much. But that's how old the practice of cheese-making may be -- much older than previously thought -- according to an article in the journal Nature.
Scientists have reportedly discovered 7,500-year-old pottery fragments that have small holes throughout and may have been used to separate curds from whey, Science Recorder reports.
"In the tough days before refrigerators, early dairy farmers probably devised cheese-making as a way to preserve, and get the best use out of, milk from the cattle that they had begun to herd," according to the article in Nature.
The pottery fragments were discovered along a river in Poland and have been determined to be the oldest piece of evidence of cheese-making ever found.
Researchers hope the pieces will help them further understand the development of dairy in the ancient world, which had a big impact on human history and culture (eventually leading to that apex of civilization, the hot fudge sundae). "It's building a picture for me, as a European, of where we came from: the origins of our culture and cuisines," said Peter Bogucki, an archeologist at Princeton University, in the Nature piece.
Bogucki also said in the article that the development of dairy, especially cheese, helped Neolithic people get valuable nutrients. Most adults at the time could not eat large amounts of cheese due to lactose intolerance. However, being able to separate the curds from the whey solved the problem, as most of the lactose remained in the whey, which was tossed. The end result likely resembled "a clumpy version of modern mozzarella."
"In the course of excavating these sites, we occasionally came across fragments of pottery with small holes in them," said Bogucki, who has been excavating in the area since the 1980s. "We realized these were sieves. There weren't many of them, but still a few at just about every site.
"A couple of years later, I was with my wife visiting a friend in Vermont, and I saw these 19th-century agricultural implements, including ceramics that were perforated much like the ones in Poland," Bogucki continued. "These were used for cheese manufacturing."
However, other scientists had other explanations for the holes. Some ideas: The pottery may have been used for transporting hot coals, separating honey from honeycombs or manufacturing beer.
But a research team led by University of Bristol Professor Richard P. Evershed has studied the pottery fragments and determined that they contain milk and fat residues, supporting the cheese-making theory.
Now if scientists could only pin down the origin of crackers.
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