History : Sep-Oct 2016
IKONAUT 4 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2016 NEWS from the first millennium b.c. In the lowlands, evidence of cheesemaking from this time is common. This find, how- ever, offers proof of earlier high-altitude cheese produc- tion, a much more challenging process: “Prehistoric herders would have had to have de- tailed knowledge of the loca- tion of alpine pastures,” ex- plained Newcastle University research associate Francesco Carrer. They would have had “to cope with unpredictable weather and have the techno- E m mentaler and Gruyère might be more mature than previous- ly thought. Archaeol- ogists have discovered that the great-granddaddy of to- day’s Swiss cheese was being cooked up in the High Alps as far back as the early Iron Age. A team from the univer- sities of Newcastle and York was excavating six sites in the Swiss Alps. They found evidence of cheesemaking from the milk of cows, sheep, and goats on pottery sherds logical knowledge to trans- form milk into a nutritious and storable product.” It is not known how long this ancient Alpine cheese was matured (or if it had holes). But the find sheds valuable light on changes in Iron Age life. Population growth in the valleys, and loss of land to ar- able farming, forced herders to seek higher pastures. Since around 300 million pounds of Swiss cheese are eaten in the United States every year, it was clearly worth the effort. Swiss Cheese Found at “Grater” Heights Three thousand years ago, population changes forced dairy production to move to higher terrain, creating the progenitor for a Swiss specialty. IRON AGE DIET AN IRON AGE hut at the Val Fenga site may mark a starting point in the long history of Swiss cheese. Of five potsherds examined at the site, three bore traces of fat from the first millennium b.c. Archaeologists believe cheese was made here in the summer, which would make it one of the earliest dairies ever found at high altitude. FRANCESCOCARRER,ETAL.,PLOSONE HARD CHEESE Sheep are herderd into a reconstruction of an Alpine pen from 3,000 years ago. Making cheese from milk was challenging at higher altitudes.