London: The art of cheese-making dates back at least 7,000 years to Poland, archaeologists have concluded after finding traces of an ancient vintage.
Chemical analysis of fragments of pottery believed to have been specially designed for creating cheese has shown that it was being made in about 5000 BC.
Interestingly, the earliest vintage comes from the Polish region of Kuyavia instead of coming from places like Somerset in Britain and Brie in France that are famous today for their cheeses.
By analysing fatty acids extracted from unglazed pottery pierced with small holes excavated from archaeological sites in the area, the researchers showed that dairy products were processed in these ceramic vessels, the `Daily Mail` reported.
The nature of the sieves, close in shape to modern cheese-strainers, provides compelling evidence that these specialised vessels have been used for cheese-making.
Before the study, milk residues had been detected in early sites in north-western Anatolia (8,000 years ago) and in Libya (nearly 7,000 years ago).
However, it had been impossible to detect if the milk was processed to cheese products.
Researchers from the Organic Geochemistry Unit at the University of Bristol, together with colleagues from the US and Poland studied unglazed pottery from the region of Kuyavia dating from around 7,000 years ago.
Researchers examined preserved fatty acids trapped in the fabric of the pottery and showed that the sieves had indeed been used for processing dairy products.
Milk residues were also detected in non-perforated bowls, which may have been used with the sieves.
The processing of milk and particularly the production of cheese were critical in early agricultural societies as it allowed the preservation of milk in a non-perishable and transportable form and it made milk a more digestible commodity for early prehistoric farmers.
"Before this study, it was not clear that cattle were used for their milk in Northern Europe around 7,000 years ago. However, the presence of the sieves in the ceramic assemblage of the sites was thought to be a proof that milk and even cheese was produced at these sites," Milanie Salque, from the University of Bristol and one of the authors of the paper, said.
"Of course, these sieves could have been used for straining all sorts of things, such as curds from whey, meat from stock or honeycombs from honey. We decided to test the cheese-making hypothesis by analysing the lipids trapped into the ceramic fabric of the sieves," Salque said.
"The presence of milk residues in sieves (which look like modern cheese-strainers) constitutes the earliest direct evidence for cheese-making," Salque added.
The findings were published in the journal Nature.