World’s oldest cheese found in Egypt

Four pillars from the Tomb of Ptahmes in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden the Netherlands

In ancient Egypt, milk had to be consumed shortly after milking or else it would spoil without refrigeration, so it was often turned into cheese and other fermented products like yogurt.

They discovered it while working on the tomb of Ptahmes, a former mayor of Memphis, the former capital of Egypt. One contained a "solidified whitish mass" and a piece of canvas fabric they believe could have been to cover the jar or preserve what's inside it.

Dr Enrico Greco, a chemical scientist at Catania University in Italy, said: 'The material analysed in this study is probably the most ancient archeological solid residue of cheese ever found to date.

Brucellosis is still around today, and present in Australia - a year ago there was concern about the disease spreading from pigs to humans and dogs in Queensland and New South Wales.

No word yet on whether it was the cheese that did ol' Ptahmes in. To identify the substance, Italian researchers first completely dissolved the contents of the jar, and then took its protein constituents so that they could be put through a process that would purify them.

The tomb was initially discovered back in 1885, but was "lost" after being buried under drifting sands.

"Altogether, these data confidently suggested that the investigated archaeological organic sample represents a cheese-like product obtained using bovine milk mixed with milk from ovine (goat or sheep)", the researchers wrote. Brucella melitensis, the bacteria responsible for brucellosis, is still around today and can spread from animals to people typically after consuming unpasteurized dairy products.

The sample was excavated at the Saqqara necropolis near Cairo between 2013 and 2014.

If the researchers' suspicions are confirmed, the 3,200-year-old sample will also provide the world's oldest reported biomolecular evidence of brucellosis.

"The characteristic of the canvas made it unsuitable for containing liquid or, in general, non solid-materials".

He added: 'In conclusion, even if very ancient kefir or milk or dairy residues, coming from North African, Chinese and European excavations have been found and analysed, the present sample represent the oldest solid cheese so far discovered'.

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