A delicious food that often represents the epitome of richness, gluttony, and indulgence, cheese has rather humble origins. The earliest evidence of cheese production was found in a hamlet called Kuyavia in Poland, in archaeological specimens from 5,500 BC. These specimens were a group of 34 perforated earthen vessels, found with strains of milk and milk fat. Due to this archaeological evidence, the genesis of cheese may be accredited to the Polish by most, but a counter-view exists, too.
Certain historians are sure that it was a traversing ancestor of the Arabs who invented (or discovered) cheese. The legend goes something like this: As the traveller prepared for a long journey across a desert, he put a ration of milk in a sheep's stomach - this was a common way to store food and drink at the time. The rennet present in the sheep stomach and the hot Arabian sun was believed to have separated the milk, forming milky whey and - you guessed it, coagulated cheese. Those who support this view believe that the Arabs brought the art of cheese making to the Western world, which is where it truly blossomed.
From there, cheese slowly began to become the luxury and indulgence in Europe that we know it as today. Historically, cheese has been mentioned in several literary works of the classical age, by greats such as Aristotle, who refers to the use of fig sap as a coagulant in his book, History of Animals, written in the 4th century BC. Homer also mentioned cheese, in his 8th-century epic, The Odyssey. The story that it follows involves the Cyclops, Polyphemus, stocking his kitchen with countless different types of cheese. So, it's safe to say that cheese was regular fare for the Greeks. This is the oldest available account of cheese making.
As time went on, colonialism began to run its course and cheese making spread far and wide across Europe - it was not unusual for a region to produce its own, unique type of cheese. In Asia, however, cheese never really garnered the same popularity and acceptance. Even today, Asian cuisine does not involve the use of too much cheese, if at all. No one knows the real reason for this.
Nevertheless, a surprising and welcome change has been observed in India - a nation that once scrunched its collective noses at the very mention of cheese. It's now ready to marry cheese with most of its indigenous dishes - cheese pakodas, cheese sev puri, cheese pao bhaji; none are seen as crazy concoctions anymore. This acceptance of cheese has led the average Indian to see it as a welcome addition to any recipe - because, why not?
Listen to the podcast, which marvels at the acceptance and Indianisation of cheese, by Vikram Doctor.
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