Medical

Curd of the Pharaohs: oldest cheese found in Egypt

Curd of the Pharaohs: oldest cheese found in Egypt

Researchers have just discovered the world's oldest cheese (also in Saqqara, Egypt), and it is nearly certainly cursed... or at least contaminated.

Imagine being so old that the American Chemical Society (ACS) devotes an entire press release to your very existence, describing you as a "solidified whitish mass".

The world's oldest cheese, dating back more than 3,000 years, has been discovered inside an Egyptian tomb, scientists have said.

And while the sample retrieved by Greco's colleagues may be old, others have discovered traces of ancient cheese or yogurt (the two can be hard to distinguish) that long predate even the recent finding, Kindstedt said.

It was buried in the 19th dynasty tomb of the Ptahmes, mayor of the ancient Egyptian city of Memphis.

The tomb that holds Ptahmes, who was originally mummified and laid to rest in the 13th century BC, was initially discovered back in 1885.

In one of the broken jars, researchers found a "solidified, whitish" mass, wrapped in a piece of canvas, researchers said.

In ancient Egypt, milk had to be consumed shortly after milking or else it would spoil without refrigeration, so it was often turned into cheese and other fermented products like yogurt. The 3,200-year-old cheese was found to be made from a mixture of cow milk and that of a sheep or goat.

What's more, the scientists revealed, the cheese seems to have been contaminated with a potentially deadly bacteria often found in unpasteurized dairy products.

"The archaeologists suspected it was food, according to the conservation method and the position of the finding inside the tomb, but we discovered it was cheese after the first tests", Enrico Greco, the lead author of the paper and a research assistant at Peking University in Beijing, said in an email. It's a disease that spreads to animals to people, typically after eating unpasteurised dairy products.

"Until now, we were not sure whether it was really part of the daily life of the ancient Egyptians", said Greco. Not only did the team find the world's oldest cheese, but they also found the first reported biomolecular evidence of this disease.


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