Would you believe, dairy farmers in Poland used clay strainers to turn cow’s milk into cheese 7000 years ago. That’s a long time ago when you consider our modern day calendar at 2012. There was a lot going on in medieval times.
The earliest evidence to date of cheese-making began before people developed the ability to digest the lactose sugars in raw milk (straight from the cow).
Cheese contains very little lactose and was a valuable source of nutrition prehistoric Europeans. They were able to store milk in the form of cheese that was easy to transport, would keep for months without spoiling, and didn’t make them ill from lactose intolerance.
About 30 years, ago archaeologists found sieve-like pottery fragments in north-central Poland. Some of the region’s earliest farmers settled there. These shards dated back to between 7,200 and 6,800 years ago and the holes in the sieves were minute at just two or three millimeters wide. Cattle bones were also found close by leading to conclusions that reconstructed bowl-shaped containers were cheese strainers. There is a lack of proof which led to other hypotheses including the possibility that the vessels were used to strain chaff while making beer.
To try to figure out once and for all the use of the strainers, chemical analyses were made on 50 fragments taken from 34 vessels. Residues of fats absorbed by the clay can remain trapped for millennia. The test results detected milk residues in all but one of the pieces.
Back then people wouldn’t have strained milk before drinking it and butter is processed differently. As reported in the journal Nature, the only explanation is that people were coagulating milk and then using the sieves to separate semi-solid curds from the liquid whey to make cheese. Back then, people wouldn’t have strained milk before drinking it, and butter is processes differently.
These cheese-makers, called the Linearbandkeramik, were the first major farmers to settle in central Europe. The Linearbandkeramik people came up with a clever way to reduce the lactose content of their milk and we have all benefited from their discovery.
To learn more details, click on Prehistoric Farmers made Cheese.