Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization
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Behind every traditional type of cheese there is a fascinating story. By examining the role of the cheesemaker throughout world history and by understanding a few basic principles of cheese science and technology, we can see how different cheeses have been shaped by and tailored to their surrounding environment, as well as defined by their social and cultural context. Cheese and Culture endeavors to advance our appreciation of cheese origins by viewing human history through the eyes of a cheese scientist.
There is also a larger story to be told, a grand narrative that binds all cheeses together into a single history that started with the discovery of cheese making and that is still unfolding to this day. This book reconstructs that 9000-year story based on the often fragmentary information that we have available. Cheese and Culture embarks on a journey that begins in the Neolithic Age and winds its way through the ensuing centuries to the present. This tour through cheese history intersects with some of the pivotal periods in human prehistory and ancient, classical, medieval, renaissance, and modern history that have shaped western civilization, for these periods also shaped the lives of cheesemakers and the diverse cheeses that they developed. The book offers a useful lens through which to view our twenty-first century attitudes toward cheese that we have inherited from our past, and our attitudes about the food system more broadly.
This refreshingly original book will appeal to anyone who loves history, food, and especially good cheese.
who offers her milk and cream. Dumuzi then confronts Inanna, demanding to know why she prefers the farmer. He presents an impassioned comparison of the products that the farmer has to offer, such as bread, beans, and dates, with his own products, including rich milk, fermented milk (yogurt), churned milk (butter or ghee), and honey cheese and small cheeses. He ends with a boast that he produces so much cream and milk that his rival the farmer could live off the leftovers (Kramer 1969). Dumuzi’s
Thus, the consumption of cheese and other dairy products may have been primarily restricted to the ruling elite and privileged temple workers in the cities, as well as to simple pastoralists in the countryside, while not available to the urban population in general. Most Mesopotamian cuneiform references to cheese probably refer to acid-coagulated or acid/heat-coagulated fresh cheeses (Bottéro 1985; Gelb 1967). But the term white cheese in the Sumerian-Akkadian lexicon raises an important
cultures, whose experience with ruminant dairying stretched back some three thousand years. Farther to the west, however, in the steppes north of the Black and Caspian Seas, lived pastoral peoples who had long ago migrated out of Neolithic Anatolia through the Balkan peninsula, the lower Danube, and on to Pontic/Caspian steppes, and who herded cattle, sheep, and goats. They soon followed the example of the Botai and domesticated the horse, then invented the chariot, which made them a force to
specialized in sacrificial paraphernalia outside the temple. Asklepios, the god of healing, presents one of the most intriguing linkages of cheese to Greek religion. The offering of cakes, especially cheese-filled cakes, seemed to have been particularly prominent in the cult of Asklepios (Kearns 2010). Perhaps this was in deference to Asklepios’s half brother Aristaious, who in Greek mythology was the god who taught humans the art of cheese making (Harrod 1981). Even more interesting is the
connected the interior to the Great Lakes, followed a decade later by the construction of railroad networks that crisscrossed the Midwest and connected to all points east (Bidwell and Falconer 1941). By 1850 cheese making had decisively shifted west (figure 8-1) along with the production of other nonperishable commodities, a trend that has yet to be reversed in America. Figure 8-1. Cheese production in the United States during 1849. Each dot represents 200,000 pounds (about 91,000 kg) of cheese