Archaeologists have discovered that as far back as 6000 BC cheese was made from
cow's and goat's milk and put in big jars. Egyptian grave wall painting of 2000 BC show
butter and cheese being made, and other wall painting which demonstrate milk being
stored in skin bags suspended from poles show a knowledge of dairy agriculture at that
time. It is probable that nomadic tribes of Central Asia found animal skin bags a effective
way to take milk on animal backs once on the move. Fermentation of the milk sugars
would cause the milk to curdle and the swaying motion would break up the curd to allow
for a refreshing whey drink. The curds would then be removed, drained and gently salted
to offer a appetising and nutritious high protein food.
Historians believe that cheese began in the Middle East and the earliest type was a form
of sour milk which came to life when it was come across that domesticated animals could
be milked. A fabled story has it that cheese was 'discovered' by an anonymous Arab
nomad. He is said to have filled a saddlebag with milk to keep him on a travel across the
desert by horse. After a few hours riding he halted to quench his thirst, only to find that the
milk had separated into a pale watery liquid and firm white lumps. For the saddlebag,
which was made from the stomach of a young animal, held a coagulating enzyme
acknowledged as rennin, the milk had been effectively separated into curds and whey by
the combination of the rennin, the hot sun and the galloping motions of the horse. The
nomad, unconcerned with technical details, found the whey drinkable and the curds
France developed a wider range of cheeses from the rich agricultural areas in the south
and west of that country. By and large, soft cheese production was preferred with a
comparatively long making season. Hard-pressed cheese appeared to play a secondary
role. To some extent this reflects the Latin culture of the nation, mirroring the cheese
types produced in the Mediterranean areas as distinct from the hard-pressed cheese that
were developed in the northern regions of Europe for storage and use in the long cold
winter months that lay ahead.
The first and simplest way of extending the length cheese would keep without spoiling
was simply ageing it. Aged cheese was popular from the start because it kept well for
domestic use. In the 1300s, the Dutch began to seal cheese intended for export in hard
rinds to maintain its freshness, and, in the early 1800s, the Swiss became the first to
process cheese. Frustrated by the speed with which their cheese went bad in the days
before refrigeration, they developed a method of grinding old cheese, adding filler
ingredients, and heating the mixture to produce a sterile, uniform, long-lasting product.
Another advantage of processing cheese was that it permitted the makers to recycle
edible, second-grade cheeses in a palatable form.
Prior to the twentieth century, most people considered cheese a specialty food, produced
in individual households and eaten rarely. However, with the advent of mass production,
both the supply of and the demand for cheese have increased. In 1955, 13 percent of milk
was made into cheese. By 1984, this percentage had grown to 31 percent, and it
continues to increase. Interestingly, though processed cheese is now widely available, it
represents only one-third of the cheese being made today. Despite the fact that most
cheeses are produced in large factories, a majority are still made using natural methods.
In fact, small, "farmhouse" cheese making has made a comeback in recent years. Many
Americans now own their own small cheese-making businesses, and their products have
become quite popular, particularly among connoisseurs.
So next time you are putting together a Fondue Party or a cheese plater for that Sunday
game, remember that there are hundreds of varieties to choose from