Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/12/14/prehistoric_cheese/

Sniff.. Phew! WORLD'S OLDEST CHEESE discovered in Poland

Crucial fromage tech developed 8,000 years ago

By Anna Leach

Posted in Science, 14th December 2012 07:04 GMT

Ancient cheese-making technology has been discovered in Poland - proving Man was making proto-mozzarella approximately 8,000 years ago.

The find shows humans made cheese in the Neolithic Era, 3,000 years earlier than archaeologists previously thought.

Traces of the world's oldest fromage were discovered by researchers from Bristol University, the University of Gdańsk and Princeton when they examined a Polish pot with holes in it. The results of their analysis appeared today in the journal Nature.

Mysterious perforated pottery fragments from a cattle herding site in Poland turned out to be part of an ancient cheese strainer. Traces of milk lipids on the pottery revealed its original use.

The academics poring over the Polish pottery had previously speculated that it was used as a fire cover or as a strain for honey or beer.

But an analysis of the residues on the pot at Bristol University conclusively proved that the chemicals were of milk derivatives. And speaking to modern cheese makers helped the boffins to understand the significance of the perforations in the clay.

Although milk traces were found on pottery from 8,000 years ago, the ancient crockery was not perforated like the pot found in Poland. This suggests that although milk was used, stored and likely curdled in these other sites, it wasn't transformed into cheese as in Poland.

"The evidence was stunning," Professor Richard Evershed of Bristol University told the BBC. He added:

If you then put together the fact that there are milk fats in with the holes in the vessels, along with the size of the vessels and knowing what we know about how milk products are processed, what other milk product could it be?

The cheese strainer would have been an impressive feat for a Neolithic civilisation - taking something perishable and turning it into a storable product. It is believed from genetic analysis that Neolithic farmers were lactose intolerant so it may have helped them digest the milk better, too. The cheese would have been a soft cow's milk delicacy.

Earliest evidence for cheese making in the sixth millennium BC in northern Europe was published in Nature. ®