September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Cheese: interesting, ancient food

By Ron Johnson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

You wouldn't have to look far or long to find the cheese in the Johnsons' refrigerator. At this very moment, there is a hunk of sharp cheddar, a bit of cheese graced with sun-dried tomato and basil, several Swiss slices, a jar of grated Parmesan, a package of cream cheese and a small chunk of Limburger tightly wrapped (very tightly wrapped) in its aluminum foil armor.
I find this somewhat amusing, for at one time, I did not care for cheese in any form or fashion. No macaroni-and-cheese, no lasagna, no cheeseburgers
I'm not sure when I finally came to my gustatory senses. Maybe it was while I was a starving college student who could afford very little in the way of meat. Or maybe it was when I made my way out into the world a little farther that I grew adventurous enough to sample some of the infinite types and tastes of fromage.
At any rate, here I am right now, nibbling a bit of aged cheddar while I sip my second cup of black coffee. I've found, over the years, that not only does "butter make it better," but good cheese can make other foods and beverages most excellent.
Not long ago, I began wondering about the history of cheese. I'd heard the theory that the first cheese was made and discovered by either a shepherd, goat herder or Arab nomad. In each instance, milk was place into a carrying container made of the stomach of a young ruminant. The rennet that was there, as the story goes, reacted with the heat of the day and the motion of the walking or of the camel ride.
The thirsty shepherd, goat herder or nomad went to pour out the milk and found out - much to his surprise - that the milk contained white lumps. Probably unwilling to throw the stuff away, he decided to taste the milk and curds. And so cheese was born.
Cheese dates to at least 6,000 B.C. Archaeologists have found traces of the food on pottery shards in the ruins of houses.
The ancient Sumerians ate cheese made from cow and goat milk in around 4,000 B.C. Cheese was known in ancient Egypt, too. Murals in tombs from about 2,000 B.C. show cheese and butter being made. Some of the paintings depict milk stored in bags made of skins hanging from poles.
I'm better than some folks, but not as good as others, when it comes to knowledge of the Bible. But, guess what?
Yes, cheese is mentioned. For example, 2 Samuel 17:26 says that after David and his people crossed the River Jordan and were in Mahanaim, they were given "wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey and curds, sheep, and cheese from cows' milk..."
In addition, 1 Samuel 17:18 relates that Jesse gave David 10 cheeses to take to the captain of the army that had assembled to battle Saul.
Researchers have turned up another nugget of cheese information. At one time, near Jerusalem, was a place called "the valley of the cheese makers."
But it was the ancient Romans who are credited with developing cheese making into the art we know it to be today. The Romans came up with cheese aging and ripening techniques.
Many of the larger houses in Rome had a room called the "caseale," a separate cheese kitchen. There were also special areas devoted to aging cheese. Soldiers introduced cheese to the corners of the Roman Empire by carrying it with them as part of their rations.
During the Middle Ages, monks became not only the keepers of knowledge but innovators in cheese. They developed many of today's cheese varieties.
Later, during the Renaissance, cheese lost popularity, being considered unhealthful. But cheese slowly came back into favor, and on-farm production moved to small factories. Indeed, the first cheese factory to make cheese on an industrial scale opened in 1815, in Switzerland.
Cheese made its way to the New World with the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower in 1690. The first mass production of cheese began in 1851, in Oneida County, New York.
In Wisconsin, now the nation's cheesemaking capital, Anne Pickett, Lake Mills, established a cottage industry in 1841, by making cheese from the milk from cows she rented from a neighbor.
Seventeen years later, her brother, John J. Smith, obtained the first cheese vat in Wisconsin and began making cheese in Sheboygan County. As is the case with many cheese factories today, Smith bought his milk from neighboring farms.
Wisconsin's first true cheese factory is said to have belonged to Chester Hazen, near Fond du Lac. In 1864, he set up shop in a building separate from his house. Hazen's new venture was widely expected to fail. But after only a year, he was making cheese from the milk of more than 300 cows.
The state's cheese factories peaked at 2,800 or so in 1922, dwindled to some 1,500 in 1945. However, at that time they turned out 515 million pounds of cheese a year.
Today, America's Dairyland is home to approximately 10,800 dairy farms and 129 cheese factories. These factories make 2.5 billion pounds of cheese a year. That's one-fourth of all U.S. cheese production.
Well. Besides learning to like cheese, I guess I've also learned a little bit about it.
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