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Interesting facts

The history of cheese and dairying


Human history may be analysed with special attention paid to what we ate through the ages. When men were hunters and migrated constantly in search of game, their diet was different from when they settled and started leading shepherds’ life. It was different yet again when man became breeder and farmer. The origins of cheese are connected with the shepherds’ period, when cattle were mainly the tractive force in transport and farming work, while sheep and goats provided milk. The dairying itself began with yoghurt, which developed naturally, during the transportation of milk. In ancient times, Herodotus and Xenophon called the first milk drinks “komos” and “kumis”.

Modern historical research shows that milk processing and cheese production originated in Anatolia (today’s Turkey), from this region cheesemaking practices spread to the Balkans and later to the whole of Europe and throughout the world. The milk which was transported in skins made of lamb’s stomachs underwent the process of coagulation, turning from liquid milk into a gelatinous substance, due to both the temperature and constant stirring. It was understood then, with the enzymes in the stomachs of lambs, goats or calves milk fermented in a completely different way than in the so-called spontaneous fermentation, when the milk is fermented by bacteria cultures which are in the air. Then, the fresh, drained curd was packed into special cane or wicker baskets. In Greek, “formos” means a “basket” and this is where the name of not only the “form” but also the cheese itself comes from (e.g. the French “fromage” or the Italian “formaggio”).

The first “cheese notes”

The oldest document dating from the third millennium BC originating from Tell el’Ubaid, near the Iraqi town of Uruk, which describes cheese production techniques can be found in the National Museum in Baghdad. Cheese was also discovered in one of the pharaohs’ tombs (2.8 thousand years BC). In the Bible Abram offered sour milk to three angels as early as at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, while in the famous Odyssey Homer describes Ulysses who observes Polyphemus, the Cyclops, who makes goat cheese in his cave. Hippocrates, the creator of medical science also praises the health inducing qualities of cheese. To follow the Greek tracks, the art of cheesemaking was also popularised in the Roman Empire. In his famous and most complete work on agricultural science, De re rustica Columella describes in detail how to manufacture various kinds of cheese, from soft cheeses or those from which whey is dripped, through to smoked and hard cheeses to the cheeses which are ripened for a long time. The fact that as early as then the famous pecorino Romano and the famous Tuscan sheep's milk cheeses were already produced is known from this very book.
After ancient times, cheesemaking was still developing in the early and late Middle Ages. The main centres which promoted the agricultural science were the Cistercians monasteries. The fact that two of the most renowned French cheeses, Maroilles and Port Salut, were named after the Cistercian Abbeys created in the 11th century France by St. Robert is not a coincidence. However, the establishment of the Chiaravalle Abbey in 1115 by St. Bernard in northern Italy was of greatest significance for the popularisation of cheese. There, thanks to drainage ditches, channels and bodies of water, the Po Valley had green pastures throughout the year. As a result, the production of milk and cheese, which were exported to the entire Europe, was increased.

The ground-breaking 19th century

The 19th century turned out to be ground-breaking for cheese production. A number of technological facilities appeared, beginning with the microscope which was invented by Antony Van Leeuvenloek, a Dutchman. It gave rise to microbiology – the science which is fundamental for the research into the evolution of cheese. Between 1751 and 1772 the famous Encyclopaedia by Diderot and a’Alambert is published. It contains not only descriptions of cheese manufacturing, but four illustrations presenting its basic tools. Copper cauldrons for making cheese as well as the tilted wooden tables for dripping whey are still used today. Developing the first system for powdered milk production in 1855 was a further dairying discovery. In 1865 the first refrigerators and freezers were built. Halfway through the century Ilja Meczikow applied milk pasteurisation for the first time, while Tyndall makes the first industrial rennin. Additionally, in 1877 Gustav de Laval presents the first centrifuge which is able to separate cream from milk really quickly. As a result, the consumption of butter in the European cities which developed at that time grew largely. It is an astonishing fact that the method for measuring milk’s fat content was only invented in 1890.

The development of dairying in Poland

Though the art of cheesemaking was known in Poland as early as in the Middle Ages, thanks to the Cistercian abbeys in Jedrzejow, Mogila near Cracow, Wachock, Oliwa near Gdansk and Szczyrzyc, only the end of the 19th century was the most important time for the history of Polish dairying. Cheesemaking was also popularised by protestant minorities from Germany and Holland, like the Mennonites who settled in Pomerania and Kujawy. At the beginning of the 19th century Polish dairying developed mainly in the rich, landowners’ manors. However, towards the end of the century the idea of cooperative movement began developing in dairying in the Prussian Partition in Greater Poland and Galicia which was under Austrian rule, as well as finally in the Russian Partition. Melania Lipinska writes that "until the breakout of the 1st World War, the cooperatives purchased as little as 1,5% in the south of Poland compared to 7% in Pomerania and Greater Poland. On the lands of all the three Partitions there were 600 dairy cooperatives, which processed milk in 770 creameries. The distributors of dairy products made efforts to conquer foreign markets. Butter, cream and casein made up the exported goods."

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