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The History of Cheese

Both with its initial appearance and its subsequent evolution, the history of cheese has kept pace with the steady development of the Mediterranean.

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The history of cheese began in the year 8000 B.C. on the Iranian plateau with mankind’s first taming of ruminants. One thousand years later, the nomads of Northern Europe then tamed the wild cow, thus creating a reliable, constant source for their meat and milk.

It was not until the 4th millennium B.C. that both the goat and the ewe made their appearances on Mediterranean shores. The first reference to nutrition by ruminant’s milk comes from Greek mythology when Zeus, pursued by his father, is nourished on milk extracted from the goat Amaltheia. Then, Homer gives a detailed description of Polyphemous, the shepherding and cheese-making Cyclopes, while mentioning the small pieces of cheese maturing in his cave. Both Aristotle and Dioskourides provide the first recipes of cheese production, relating that there was an area specially designated for the production of cheese in the market of ancient Athens.

The Romans, known to be master cheese makers, are historically responsible for the rapid spread of cheese-making practices and procedure across the Mediterranean. Traditions of cheese-making moved with them in their steady advance across Europe.

Cheese making developed most significantly during the Byzantine Empire. Records refer to the production of "Vlachiko" cheese and "myzethra," varieties of saltless soft white cheese) in Constantinople and its environs. Such traditions spread like wildfire during the Ottoman occupation of the Eastern Mediterranean.

During the 19th century, ministers of the newly established Modern Greek state like Emmanuel Benakis perceived the great economic significance of livestock breeding and appointed Raymond Demetriades, a renown Greek cheese maker, to train and harmonize the country’s many new cheese makers. Demetriades was then succeeded by the renown cheese makers Zygouris and Polychroniades. These men traveled throughout Greece, homogenizing and drastically enhancing the country’s cheese industry. A National Commission of Milk was set up subsequently in an effort  to promote the interests of cheese producers.

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