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marycatelli

Cheese and Culture

Cheese and Culture:  A History of Cheese and Its Place In Western Civilization by Paul S. Kindstedt

This book starts out a bit slow, covering irrelevant bits of human history, but before it gets a dozen pages in, it has managed to reach the relevant portion:  the Neolithic era, where the changing composition of bones from domestic animals points to their being dairy, not meat, producers, and the milk fat on pottery shards.  Approximately a thousand years before adult lactose tolerance appeared, so they were making butter and cheese even then, to make it digestible by adults.

Discussing the techniques, both acid (probably the earlier) and rennet methods of making cheese.  Rennet-based is only definitely identified among the Hittites.

Before then we have the Sumerian goddess Inanna persuaded to change whom she'll marry based on the shepherd's argument that he can provide her with all these milk products, and the temples had enormous sheep flocks to provide the necessary cheese and butter offerings; the constant ration pointed at the way they made butter  first and then cheese from the buttermilk and the whey.

The arrival of cheese in India in the form which it remained for centuries; a combination of prohibitions against impure food and killing beasts, and the tropical weather, probably kept it that way.

How the increase in trade changed cheese, and the need for rinded cheese for it to keep.

How climate changes in Europe produced alpine transhumance -- moving the large flock to alpine pasture (opened up by the cooling that lowered the tree line) in the summer and back in the winter, when feeding was actually more difficult, often relying on leaves -- and the effects of that on cheese-making.

Greek cheese, used as sacrificial offerings and as ingredients in sacrificial cakes, and exported -- the priests of Athena in Athens could not eat local cheese, only imported -- the temple of Artemis in Sparta was famed for its cheese partly because that was a favorite raiding location for Spartan boys, deliberately underfed and punished if caught stealing.  The time that Athens sacrificed a deliberately simple meal to Castor and Pollux, to remind Athenians of the good old ways; it included cheese.

How the conquest of Sicily made it the breadbasket of Rome and so had many Roman farmers switching to cheese -- a process not exactly hurt by the ecological damage caused by farming the hillside and denuding them of trees for their navies.

Demesne and peasant techniques of making cheese in the medieval times, and how the cooler climate let you pool milk over several days, which produced much more acid cheeses, and also let you ripen it with mold growing on it.

The balance of butter and cheese -- some counties in England lost the cheese trade entirely when they skimmed off too much of the fat for the butter and made a cheap cheese that soon lost favor even among the poorer classes.  (Holland managed by making "spice cheese" and favoring the low-fat stuff.)

Cheese to America and the rise of the factory made cheese.

The current fights over designated names and the impact on cheese.

Full of wonderful stuff.
Tags: history reviews: across eras
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