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Environment

Old European Cheese

Pottery fragments from Poland show Northern Europeans were making cheese in 6th millennium B.C.

by Sarah Everts
December 17, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 51

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Credit: Nature
Pottery from 6000 B.C. contains fatty acid residues consistent with cheese making and was likely used to strain curds from whey.
09051-scicon-potteryshardscxd.jpg
Credit: Nature
Pottery from 6000 B.C. contains fatty acid residues consistent with cheese making and was likely used to strain curds from whey.

Switzerland and France may produce some of Northern Europe’s most desired cheese, but Poland can now boast that its population has been making it the longest. Researchers led by Richard P. Evershed of Bristol University, in England, took samples from 50 pottery fragments found at several Polish archaeology sites and determined with mass spectrometry that they contain fatty acid residues consistent with ancient cheese making. The pottery fragments, which date back to the 6th millennium B.C., provide the earliest evidence for cheese making in Northern Europe (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature11698). The only older evidence of cheese making comes from sites in Anatolia, Turkey, that date back to the 7th millennium B.C. Anthropologists are keen to track down the onset of cheese making because it provided prehistoric people with a supply of nutritious food that did not require killing valuable livestock and because the complexity of the multistep process indicates its practitioners were technically advanced. Evershed’s team suspects that the potsherds might have been used to separate cheese curds from liquid whey because they have many small holes and look similar to strainers used in 19th- and 20th-century cheese making.

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