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Archive for the ‘Origins’ Category

Origins: The beginnings of cheese

Posted by fromagebob on October 21, 2010

Pompeii Bakery

I find myself increasingly fascinated with the originals of cheese – how did man figure out what it was, how to make it, and what the heck to do with it. I decided to start writing a series of short articles to share some of the information I’ve gleaned, along with my own unscientific, utterly unqualified (but hopefully interesting observations) with the process.

What I found is that the answers – or more accurately – the questions, come out of anthropology and archeology. Written history does not exist before about 5,000 BC. Before that, the knowledge of man and our development comes from observation of what was left behind. The scientists that explore and review develop theories that are tested, and contested, over years of study, until a consensus is reached (or not, as the case may be).

What we consider “modern” man emerged around 150,000 years ago. The term ‘emerged’ is interesting as it seems to indicate that BANG there we were, but there’s no clear start to modern man, even though we seem to be working hard on a finish. We and our ancestors were hunter-gatherers; survival was determined by the proximity of food, whether it was meat animals or vegetable. Early man followed the game over the years, establishing a pattern of camps and settlements that were more often transient than not.

One of the things I both learned and observed is that in trying to interpret history – either myself or a particular scientist or historian – there is a natural tendency to interpret events in light of our personal experiences. I once read that all fiction is rooted in fact, because the writer has to draw on personal knowledge and experience to create his characters. I find that the same applies to the literature about early man. There is an obvious attempt by scientists to maintain a separation, and to convey their findings and conclusions in an impartial manner. I find that reading multiple sources about the same period of history yields different impressions about that period, and in many cases, it’s the influence of the writer that is conveyed.

No matter. I will sin as well, using my own biased knowledge to try to create an impression of how cheese began (isn’t that arrogant!!!).

Given that man has the ability to observe and conclude, the fact that animals could be herded – mammoths over a cliff, or deer into a ravine – would have given someone the idea of trapping or managing a herd to the benefit of the tribe. Cooperation was key, since man banded together for survival. It would be reasonable to assume that various talents emerged in these groups; the best hunter, the best spear-maker, the best mammoth meat cooker, and so on, creating rudimentary specialties within the groups.

The other factor in all this is that the term “man” covers a lot of territory – we are genus homo, which includes habilis, Neanderthal, and offshoots of the family tree, and there is a very good chance that all of us co-existed at times, and shared knowledge.

Next time: Bones….

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