Fragments of 34 perforated pottery vessels, discovered in Poland and dating to the 6th millennium BC, were used to strain milk in order to make cheese, research in Nature shows. The findings represent the earliest direct evidence of cheese-making and highlight the importance of pottery vessels in the processing of dairy products, especially in the manufacture of reduced-lactose milk products among lactose-intolerant prehistoric farming communities.
The introduction of dairying was an important innovation in early agriculture, with milk products being rapidly adopted as a major component of the diets of early prehistoric farmers. The production of cheese allowed the preservation of nutritious milk products in a portable, non-perishable form, and also made milk more digestible commodity for these farmers, who would have been lactose intolerant.
Richard Evershed and colleagues report the presence of abundant milk fat residues in pottery vessels dating from around 7,500 years ago. These residues indicate the vessels, whose function had been uncertain, were used as strainers to separate milk into fat-rich curds and lactose-containing whey, allowing the production of cheese from the curds.