Cheese is an ancient food (from the dairy family) that predates recorded history. There is no conclusive evidence indicating where cheesemaking originated, either in Europe, Central Asia or the Middle East, but convincing evidence of dairying in Egypt and Sumer, ca. 3100 BCE, is preceded by fourth-millennium evidence for the Saharan grasslands. Proposed dates for the origin of cheese follow at some distance the earliest domestication of sheep and goats around 8000 BCE. Around 3000 BCE dairying is first documented in Egypt and Sumer; dairying seems to have begun earlier in the grasslands of the Sahara. Cheese-making had spread within Europe at the earliest level of Hellenic myth and, according to Pliny the Elder, had become a sophisticated enterprise by the time the Roman Empire came into being, when valued cheeses were exported long distances to satisfy elite Roman tastes.
The idea of how the original cheese was made came from a story of traders storing milk form their journeys into an animal bladders for storage. As they traveled, the heat from the sun activated the enzyme, rennet, found in the stomach lining (usually the bladders/sacks were made of sheep or goat stomach’s). The motion helped stir the contents. This made the milk turn into its liquid whey and solid curd and cheese components. Thus cheese was discovered.
Here are some of the bullet points of history that could have lead to pressed cheesemaking as we know it:
• Sherds of pottery pierced with holes found in pile-dwellings of the Urnfield culture on Lake Neuchatel are interpreted as cheese-strainers
• Secure evidence for cheese (GA.UAR) is in Sumerian cuneiform texts of the early second millennium BCE Third Dynasty of Ur.
• Visual evidence of cheesemaking has been found in Egyptian tomb murals, dating to about 2000 BCE.
• In Late Bronze Age Minoan-Mycenaean Crete, Linear B tablets record the inventorying of cheese (tu-ro), as well as flocks and shepherds.
The flavor of early cheese were likely sour and salty, similar to cottage cheese or feta.
Original recipe from Platina:
De Recocta. We heat the whey which was left from the cheese in a cauldron over a slow fire until all the fat rises to the top; this is what the country-folk call recocta, because it is made from leftover milk which is heated up. It is very white and mild. It is less healthful than new or medium-aged cheese, but it is considered better than that which is aged or too salty. Whether one is pleased to call it cocta or recocta, cooks use it in many pottages, especially in those made of herbs.
- Andrews, E. B. trans. Platina. De Honesta Voluptatae. L. de Aguila. Venice, 1475. St. Louis: Mallinckrodt, 1967.
What I did:
I played with a cheese recipe that I found in one of my cheese books. In my cheese research, I noticed that some recipes for Ricotta called for vinegar and others asked for citric acid. I’ve also seen natural ricottas that used lemon for the acid. So I decided to experiment a bit as I wanted a creamy texture as I needed to add many herbs for this cheese I wanted to make.
1 ½ citric acid powder (dissolve in Luke warm ¼ water)
1 gallon whole milk
¼ calcium chloride (dissolve in cool ¼ water)
¼ liquid rennet (dissolve in cool ¼ water)
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp fresh Parsley
½ tsp fresh Sage, chopped fine
½ tsp fresh Rosemary, chopped fine
½ tsp fresh Thyme, chopped fine
1. Sterlize equipment before using and take large double boiler, and combine milk and dissolved citric acid powder. Stir in an up and down motion making sure the combination mixes up thoroughly.
2. Heat milk slowly to 88 degrees over medium heat. Stir gently to avoid scorching.
3. Add rennet and calcium chloride into the water using an up and down motion in order to make sure the entire milk gets totally combined with the new indredients.
4. Remove from heat in order to keep at the same temperature at this point. Cover and let set for 30 minutes. Check for clean break. If its too fragile, leave for another 15 minutes or until the break is achieved.
5. Cut into 1” cubes with a long blade knife. Let stand for about five minutes to firm up.
6. Place pot back over the double boiler and slowly bring up to 106 degrees slowly (twenty minutes if possible). Once you hit temperature, turn off heat and stir.
7. Drain off the majority of the whey (I held back about 1/3rd or it) draining the cheese through a cheese cloth.
8. Take the cheese and add back the reserved whey, herbs and salt. Mix and put in the fridge to settle and combine flavors for several hours. Serve.
200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes, Amrein-Boyes, Canada, Robert Rose Inc, 2009.
History of Cheese website: http://shannak.myweb.uga.edu/history.html
Period Illumination: Cheese-making, [Tacuinum sanitatis Casanatensis (14th century)