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Making cheese 7,200 years ago

Four ancient vessels often used for cheese, found on the Dalmatian Coast
Ancient vessels found in present day Croatia. Image: Sibenik City Museum

A discovery in Croatia has more than doubled the length of known cheesemaking history, pushing it back nearly 4,000 years in time.

Traces of fat found in pottery unearthed on the Dalmatian Coast indicate that people were fermenting dairy to make cheese and yogurt around 7,200 years ago, according to a U.S.–European research team.

Why it matters: When they began to make dairy products, humans were able to settle and farm in northern Europe, since the advance would have reduced infant mortality and allowed the population to grow, according to a news release from Penn State.

Residues previously found in Mediterranean pottery indicate that non-fermented milk was being produced and stored around 500 years before cheese and yogurt.

  • When cheese came onto the scene, it brought with it new, specialized kitchenware, Penn State anthropology professor Sarah McClure told the university's news service.
  • The researchers found the cheese traces in animal- or human-shaped vessels called rhyta. They also uncovered sieves that appeared to be used for processing cheese and other fermented dairy.

The discovery was reported last week in the PLOS One academic journal.