'World's oldest cheese' discovered in ancient Egyptian tomb

Asher Mcshane
Old cheese: The archaeological find: University of Catania and Cairo University

Archaeologists have discovered what is thought to be one of the oldest pieces of cheese ever found.

The solidified whitish substance was discovered in a broken jar in a 19th dynasty tomb at the vast Saqqara necropolis of the ancient city of Memphis, Egypt.

The tomb of Ptahmes, the mayor of ancient Memphis, was initially discovered in 1885 but had been swallowed by shifting sands until its rediscovery in 2010.

The cheese mass was found during the excavation work between 2013 and 2014 and has been revealed in a newly published study.

Scientists now say it's "probably the most ancient archaeological solid residue of cheese ever found."

A canvas fabric which may have been used to cover the jar was also unearthed.

The 3,200-year-old cheese was found to be made from a mixture of cow's milk and that of a sheep or goat.

"It (the sample) was subjected to thousands of cycles of hydration and de-hydration due to the rainfalls and the Nile floods and also the very strong alkaline environment transformed all the fats and it was not possible to use conventional techniques," Enrico Greco, the study's lead author, said.

The discovery at Saqqara revealed no trace of proteins from natural milk fermentation, Greco said. "For this reason we can say that it is the oldest solid cheese ever found to date."

"This is a very important point in the history of dairy food," Mr Greco added.

Additional reporting by AP