Brief History of Cheese

Brief History of Cheese

Let’s face it we’re stuck inside with nothing to do, except eat. Feeling a bit cheesed-off. I open the fridge and what do I see? Cheese! Before I cover my Double Gloucester, chives and onions with pickle, let’s amuse ourselves and think how cheese came about. Below is a brief history of cheese.



Most authorities consider that cheese was first made in the Middle East. The earliest type was like sour milk, developed when humans discovered that domesticated animals could be milked. Legend has it that an unknown Arab nomad ‘discovered’ cheese. He filled a saddlebag with milk to sustain him on a journey across the desert. After several hours riding he stopped to quench his thirst. Then he found that the milk had separated into pale watery liquid and solid white lumps. The saddlebag, made from the stomach of a young animal, contained a coagulating enzyme known as rennin. The milk had separated into curds and whey by the combination of the rennin, hot sun and horse’s galloping. The nomad found the whey drinkable and the curds edible.


The ancient Sumerians knew about cheese, four thousand years before the birth of Christ. The ancient Greeks credited Aristaeus, a son of Apollo and Cyrene, with its discovery. The Old Testament also mentions cheese. In the Roman era cheese really came into its own. The Romans made cheese with skill and their knowledge and reached a high standard. The ripening process had been developed and it was known that various treatments and storage conditions resulted in different flavours. The larger Roman houses had a separate cheese kitchen and special areas where cheese could be matured. In large towns home-made cheese could be taken to a special centre to be smoked. Cheese was eaten by all, from the nobility to the humble soldier as part of his rations.


During the Middle Ages, religious communities developed cheeses akin to those we know today. During the Renaissance period cheese suffered a drop in popularity, being considered unhealthy. However, it regained its esteem by the nineteenth century.


Adapted from: The Cheese Book by Richard Widcome (1978)









Medieval Cheese Recipe


A Boke of Gode Cookery Presents Medieval Recipe Translations


Tart de Bry


PERIOD: England, 14th century


DESCRIPTION: A cheese tart




  1. Tart de Bry. Take a crust ynche depe in a trap. Take yolkes of ayren rawe & chese ruayn & medle it & þe yolkes togyder. Do þerto powdour gynger, sugur, safroun, and salt. Do it in a trap; bake it & serue it forth.


From: Hieatt, Constance B. and Butler S., Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury), New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.




Tartee. Make a pie crust an inch deep in a pie pan. Take yolks of eggs raw & Autumn cheese & mix it & the yolks together. Do there-to powder ginger, sugar, saffron, and salt. Do it in a pie shell; bake it & serve it forth.




1. One nine-inch pie shell

2. Raw Egg Yolks

3. Cheese – a semi-soft, but not so soft that it can’t be grated. See note below.

4. Ginger (powder)

5. Sugar

6. Saffron

7. Salt




Combine the final 6 ingredients – the mixture needs to essentially be grated cheese held together with the egg yolk. The final consistency should be slightly runny. Place this filling in a pie shell and bake until the pastry is golden brown and the filling has set.


The original recipe implies the use of Brie cheese. However, “chese ruayn” was an Autumn cheese, made after the cattle had fed on the second growth. This was apparently a semi-soft cheese, but not as soft as a modern Brie. One period recipe says to grate it. This is probably the same cheese that the French call fromage de gaing.


Bon appétit!

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