A brie(f) history of cheese - Paul Kindstedt | Summary and Q&A

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December 13, 2018
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A brie(f) history of cheese - Paul Kindstedt

TL;DR

Cheese-making dates back to 8000 BCE, offering vital nutrients and surviving centuries of cultural evolution.

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Key Insights

  • 🧑‍🌾 Cheese-making dates back to 8000 BCE with Neolithic farmers in the Fertile Crescent.
  • 🧀 Cheese provided essential nutrients, less lactose, and longer shelf life, giving ancient civilizations a survival advantage.
  • 🧀 Different civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome refined cheese-making techniques.
  • 🤕 Medieval European monks experimented with milk, aging processes, leading to popular cheeses like Parmesan and Roquefort.
  • 🤠 The Alps, particularly Switzerland, excelled in cow’s milk cheese production.
  • 🧀 Cheese remained popular through the Renaissance and evolved with the Industrial Revolution.
  • 🧀 Today, the world produces 22 billion kilograms of cheese annually, following the footsteps of Neolithic ancestors.

Transcript

Before empires and royalty, before pottery and writing, before metal tools and weapons – there was cheese. As early as 8000 BCE, the earliest Neolithic farmers living in the Fertile Crescent began a legacy of cheesemaking almost as old as civilization itself. The rise of agriculture led to domesticated sheep and goats, which ancient farmers harve... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: When did cheese-making first begin?

Cheese-making dates back to 8000 BCE when Neolithic farmers in the Fertile Crescent discovered the process by curdling milk.

Q: How did cheese benefit ancient civilizations?

Cheese provided essential nutrients, less lactose than milk, and longer shelf life, making it a valuable food source during famines and winters.

Q: How did different civilizations contribute to the evolution of cheese-making?

Various civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome contributed unique cheese-making techniques, leading to the diverse range of cheeses we have today.

Q: How has cheese production evolved over time?

From medieval European monasteries to industrial machinery, cheese production has evolved into a global industry, producing 22 billion kilograms of cheese annually.

Summary

This video explores the origins of cheese and its significance throughout human history. Dating back to 8000 BCE, early Neolithic farmers in the Fertile Crescent discovered the process of cheesemaking by allowing fresh milk to sour and coagulate into curds. This discovery provided a survival advantage as cheese offered the essential nutrients of milk, while containing less lactose and having the ability to be preserved. Cheese became a staple commodity in trade and was integral to culinary and religious practices in Mesopotamia. The use of rennet, an animal byproduct that accelerates coagulation, spread worldwide, leading to the creation of new, harder cheeses. Various cultures added their own flavors and techniques to cheesemaking, such as Mongolian yak cheese, Egyptian cottage cheese, and South Asian paneer. The importance of cheese continued during the Roman Empire and the medieval European period, with cheese refining and experimentation taking place in Benedictine monasteries. Swiss cheesemaking became particularly successful, leading to conflicts over control of the cheese trade in the Gruyere region. Today, cheese production has reached a staggering 22 billion kilograms per year worldwide, yet local farms continue to handcraft this ancient and beloved food.

Questions & Answers

Q: When and where did the tradition of cheesemaking begin?

The tradition of cheesemaking began in the Fertile Crescent around 8000 BCE, where Neolithic farmers discovered the process by allowing fresh milk to sour and coagulate into curds.

Q: What advantage did cheese offer to Neolithic people?

Cheese provided Neolithic people with an enormous survival advantage. While milk was rich in essential proteins, fats, and minerals, it also contained high quantities of lactose which was difficult for many ancient stomachs to process. Cheese, however, offered all the advantages of milk with significantly less lactose. Additionally, cheese could be preserved and stockpiled, ensuring essential nutrients could be consumed during scarce famines and long winters.

Q: How did the discovery of cheese impact Mesopotamian civilization?

In Mesopotamia, cheese became a staple in culinary and religious life. The discovery of cheese led to the development of various types of cheeses, and administrative records from this time include cheese quotas for different rituals and populations across Mesopotamia. The use of rennet, an animal byproduct that accelerates and controls coagulation, was referenced in records from nearby civilizations in Turkey, further advancing cheesemaking techniques.

Q: How did different cultures contribute to the world of cheese?

Various cultures added their own flavors and techniques to the world of cheese. Nomadic Mongolians, for example, used yaks' milk to create hard, sundried wedges of Byaslag. Egyptians enjoyed goats' milk cottage cheese, while in South Asia, milk was coagulated with food acids like lemon juice or yogurt and then dried into loafs of paneer. The Greeks produced salty brined feta cheese, alongside a harder variety similar to today's pecorino romano.

Q: What was the role of cheese in medieval European society?

In medieval Europe, cheese continued to evolve in the manors scattered across the countryside, particularly in the hundreds of Benedictine monasteries. Medieval monks experimented endlessly with different types of milk, cheesemaking practices, and aging processes, refining and perfecting many popular cheeses still consumed today. Cheeses like Parmesan, Roquefort, Munster, and several Swiss types were all developed by these cheesemaking clergymen.

Q: How successful was Swiss cheesemaking in the Alps?

Swiss cheesemaking in the Alps was particularly successful. By the end of the 14th century, Alpine cheese from the Gruyere region of Switzerland had become so profitable that a neighboring state invaded the Gruyere highlands to take control of the growing cheese trade.

Q: How did cheese production change during the Industrial Revolution?

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, cheese production shifted from the monasteries to machinery. The Industrial Revolution brought about technological advancements that allowed for more efficient and larger-scale production of cheese.

Q: How popular is cheese worldwide today?

Today, the world produces approximately 22 billion kilograms of cheese every year, making it a highly popular and widely consumed food around the globe.

Q: How has cheesemaking traditions evolved over time?

Despite the advancements and industrialization of cheese production, many local farms still follow the traditional methods of making cheese, following in the footsteps of their Neolithic ancestors. This demonstrates the longevity and enduring appeal of cheesemaking practices throughout history.

Q: What is the significance of cheese as one of humanity's oldest foods?

Cheese holds great significance as one of humanity's oldest and favorite foods. Dating back 10,000 years, cheese has been an essential element in human survival, providing necessary nutrients and sustenance throughout various periods of history. Its enduring popularity and distinct regional variations speak to its cultural significance and the timeless pleasure it brings to people worldwide.

Takeaways

Cheese has an ancient history, dating back to 8000 BCE in the Fertile Crescent. Its discovery and subsequent evolution played a vital role in human survival. Cheese provided essential nutrients while being easier to digest due to lower lactose content. It became a staple commodity, particularly in Mesopotamia, where it held significance in culinary and religious practices. Different cultures added their unique flavors and techniques to cheesemaking, resulting in a diverse range of cheeses enjoyed worldwide today. Throughout history, cheese continued to be refined, experimented with, and perfected, particularly in medieval European monasteries. Swiss cheesemaking became highly successful, leading to conflicts over control of the trade. Despite industrialization, many local farms continue to craft cheese using traditional methods. Cheese remains a beloved and widely produced food, reflecting its enduring appeal as one of humanity's oldest culinary treasures.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Cheese-making began in 8000 BCE with Neolithic farmers discovering the process of curdling milk and creating cheese.

  • The discovery of cheese provided a survival advantage due to its essential nutrients and longer shelf life.

  • Throughout history, different civilizations refined cheese-making techniques, leading to a diverse range of cheeses enjoyed worldwide today.

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