A storage area for Parmesan cheese wheels is pictured at a
warehouse owned by Credito Emiliano bank in Montecavolo,
near Reggio Emila, central Italy. REUTERS/Stefano
Scientists have found the earliest evidence of
prehistoric cheese-making from a study of 7500-year-old pottery
fragments that are perforated just like modern cheese
Milk production and dairy processing allowed early farmers to
produce food without slaughtering precious livestock, and
making cheese turned milk into a less perishable food that
was more digestible for a population who at the time would
have been intolerant to the lactose contained in milk.
Researchers from the University of Bristol in Britain, with
colleagues in the United States and Poland, analysed fatty
acids embedded in prehistoric pottery from the Polish region
of Kuyavia, and found they had been used to separate milk
into fat-rich curds for cheese and lactose-containing whey.
"The presence of milk residues in sieves ... constitutes the
earliest direct evidence for cheese-making," said Mélanie
Salque from Bristol, one of the authors of the research,
which was published in the journal Nature.
Peter Bogucki, another researcher involved in the work, said:
"Making cheese allowed them to reduce the lactose content of
milk, and we know that, at that time, most of the humans were
not tolerant to lactose."
Milk residues have been found at ancient sites up to 8000
years old in Turkey and Libya, but there was no evidence that
the milk had been processed into cheese.
Until now, the earliest evidence of cheese-making came from
depictions of milk processing in murals several thousand
years younger than the pottery fragments.
The researchers believe other vessels found in the same
region were used for other specific purposes. Jars lined with
beeswax were probably for storing water, and pottery
containing the remnants of carcass fats was probably used for
"It is truly remarkable, the depth of insights into ancient
human diet and food processing technologies these ancient
fats preserved in archaeological ceramics are now providing
us with," said Richard Evershed, who heads the Bristol team.