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Smelly cheese

Posted on: 27th February 2015 By: David Thorold

Like a smelly cheese? Apparently, archaeologists have discovered a 3500 year old example which may make it a bit ripe for anyone. The cheese was found in a tomb in China's Taklamakan Desert where the extremely hot and dry conditions aid preservation. The cheese was placed around the neck and chest of a mummified body which seems fairly unusual even if it’s a ritual practice – not many dairy products are worn decoratively. More likely the cheese was to accompany the deceased into the afterlife and provide them with a handy source of food, a common practice across much of the world – the Welwyn Chieftain burial is a good local example of this, with bones from joints of meats and a selection of wine amphorae included in his grave.

Although there are examples of bog butter from the prehistoric period turning up in Ireland in bogs, where the airless conditions allow them to survive, it’s unlikely anything similar will ever be found in St Albans, although we do know that cheese was eaten here 2000 years ago – cheese moulds have been found at Verulamium. They are round with a series of concentric rings running around the base, which would become the top of the cheese when it was turned over to be released, much like a jelly mould today.

Cheese was popular amongst the romans, with a range of different types mentioned in texts. The Latin word caseus, provides the basis for our English word cheese and a cheese mould was called a ‘forma’ from which comes the Italian word formaggio. Oddly, milk was generally considered only fit for the sick, but cheese was popular with everyone. Now, who fancies a bit of Stinking Bishop?