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World's oldest cheese discovered in 3,200 year-old Egyptian tomb

18 August 2018

It was soon lost under drifting sands, only to be recovered more than a century later.

The cheese in question was discovered among a large cache of broken clay jars inside the tomb of Ptahmes, former mayor of Memphis (ancient Egypt, not Tennessee) and a high-ranking official during the reigns of pharaohs Seti I and Ramesses II.

A team of experts, led by chemical scientists Enrico Greco from the University of Catania, conducted a thorough analysis on what this whitish mass was. Researchers found that a odd mass they found near a grave in the great ancient city of Alexandria appears to be the world's oldest solid cheese.

In the process of doing so, the researchers first dissolved a sample, purified its protein constituents, and then analyzed them via liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry.

The characteristics of the cloth indicate it was suitable for keeping a solid rather than a liquid.

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"The constituting material was a dairy product obtained by mixing sheep or goat and cow milk".

Additionally, the absence of certain other compounds suggested that it was in fact solid cheese.

It's typically the result of eating unpasteurized dairy products.

To date, only indirect signs of brucellosis have been discovered on Egyptian bones that date back to 750 BCE.

As Dr. Greco further stated, the cheese found in the Egyptian tomb will undoubtedly remain the oldest cheese in the world, possibly forever.

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If the findings, published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, are confirmed it would represent the earliest reported evidence of the disease.

What was in the cheese, however, was Brucella melitensis, a bacterium that causes its potentially deadly namesake disease, brucellosis. In one of the jars a "solidified whitish mass" was found together with a canvas fabric that may well have been once used to cover the jar's contents.

And while the sample retrieved by Greco's colleagues may be old, others have discovered traces of ancient cheese or yogurt (the two can be hard to distinguish) that long predate even the recent finding, Kindstedt said.

The ancient cheese looked like this, but 3,300 years older and likely a million times moldier.

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World's oldest cheese discovered in 3,200 year-old Egyptian tomb