A Brief History of Cheese
Historically the discovery of cheese was likely a happy accident more than 12,000 years ago. It is thought to have occurred in the Middle East long before they were written records and around the time when animals were first domesticated. Milk would’ve been stored in various vessels and sacs like the stomach of an animal (think of what we know as wine skins). When warmed sitting by the fire or heated by the sun in combination with the vessel bacteria the milk curdled and separated into curds and whey. Soon after Shepards and farmers began to deliberately curdle milk making protein rich cheese to sustain themselves over the winter months.
The flavour of cheese differs by the type and breed of the animal the milk comes from and the terrain from which it grazes. (Terrior). Historical events and religious orders further influenced the flavour and style of many cheeses. On their quest to conquer the world the Romans carried cheese and the recipes to make them with them across Europe to feed their armies. When they left they left behind the recipes and knowledge on how to make cheese.
During the Middle Ages monks became particularly skilled at creating and storing cheeses to consume during their many meatless fasts. The industrial revolution, mass production and two world wars almost decimated traditional cheese making and many ancient recipes were lost. Thankfully some regional family recipes survived and artisanal cheese making is growing in popularity.
Today independent cheese making is alive and well by artisanal makers. They use current scientific knowledge to breed and care for their animals and produce great tasting high quality milk. These artisanal cheese makers invest in state of the art sanitation equipment, control devices and procedures. Modern advances in food science give them pre-made starter cultures necessary to form curds and eliminating the need to slaughter for rennet.
There is not any one system for identifying cheese. On the following pages we looked at cheese by texture or style. Many cheeses can belong to more than one family.