The origins of cheese making are something of a mystery. No one really knows when cheese was first made, as the production of cheese predates recorded history.
Cheese could have originated in either Europe, Central Asia or the Middle East.
We do know that
- Cheesemaking is referred to in Greek mythology
- Evidence of cheesemaking is has been found on Egyptian tomb murals
- By the time of the Roman Empire cheesemaking was widespread
It isn’t known how or why cheese was first produced, but it is thought that the practice probably evolved from attempts to preserve milk. Another theory is that the process was discovered by accident when milk was stored in a container made from the stomach of an animal. The rennet present in the stomach would have turned the milk to curd and whey resulting in the possible, accidental discovery of cheese!
Some of the cheeses we know and love today were initially recorded in the late Middle Ages.
- Cheddar was recorded around 1500 CE
- Parmesan was founded in 1597
- Gouda in 1697
- Camembert in 1791
History of cheese production in the UK
Cheese production has changed dramatically over the years. In the UK, farmhouse cheese production declined following the industrial revolution. During the depression luxury cheeses weren’t in high demand and cheesemaking wasn’t an economically viable option for British farmers, it made more sense for them to sell their milk to larger cheese producers or to the Milk Marketing Board. This was when large scale production of cheese in factories really began in the UK.
Between 1941 and 1954 cheese was rationed and producers were only allowed to make certain cheeses such as, Cheddar, Cheshire, Wensleydale, Dunlop and Leicester. It is thought that during this period hundreds of varieties of cheese disappeared practically overnight.
The situation was dire, but in the 1980s things began to improve. The economy was stronger, people were travelling more and taking a greater interest in food. Demand for different cheeses began to rise and there was a new market for continental cheese and traditional British cheeses, which were of a higher quality than many of the mass produced cheeses the nation had become accustomed to eating.
A quick walk down the cheese aisle of any British supermarket or a visit to a farmer’s market or local farm shop clearly shows the British love of cheese. Cheddar may still be the nation’s bestselling cheese, but the range and variety available shows a trend for new and exciting cheeses as well as a resurgence of many traditional British cheeses which had been in decline.