New York: Scientists have discovered residues of Swiss cheese-making process left on the fragments of ceramic pots in the Swiss Alps that date back from Neolithic times to the Iron Age.
The ceramic fragments were found at six sites in the ruins of stone buildings similar to those used by modern alpine dairy managers for cheese production during the summer months, suggesting that herders were making cheeses at higher altitudes some 3,000 years ago.
The development of alpine dairying occurred around the same time as an increasing population and the growth of arable farming in the lowlands. The resulting pressure on valley pastures forced herders to higher elevations.
The researchers found that the residue of alpine cheese on those from the first millennium BC -- the Iron Age -- had the same chemical signatures associated with heating milk from animals such as cows, sheep and goats, as part of the cheese-making process.
"Even today, producing cheese in a high mountainous environment requires extraordinary effort. Prehistoric herders would have had to have detailed knowledge of the location of alpine pastures, be able to cope with unpredictable weather and have the technological knowledge to transform milk into a nutritious and storable product," said Francesco Carrer from Newcastle University in Britain
"We can now put alpine cheese production into the bigger picture of what was happening at lower levels. But there is more work needed to fully understand the prehistoric alpine cheese-making process such as whether the cheese was made using a single milk or a blend and how long it was matured for," Carrer added in the paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.