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Pots bear oldest signs of cheese making

Early European farmers apparently used sieves to turn milk into low-lactose fare

Ceramic vessels pocked with holes have pushed the earliest evidence for cheese making back to 7,400 years ago.

Chemical signatures of milk fat in perforated pots used as strainers provide the tell-tale clues to cheese making, says a team led by biogeochemist Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol in England. As with similar-looking cheese strainers today, these devices — previously found at ancient farming villages in Poland — separated fat-rich milk curds from lactose-containing whey, the scientists report in the Dec. 13 Nature.

An earlier pottery analysis led by Evershed placed the origins of cattle milking at around 9,000 years ago in what’s now Turkey, although there is no evidence of specific milk products from that time.

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