White stuff from tomb is world's oldest cheese

The world's oldest cheese has been found in a 3,200 year-old Egyptian tomb

Scientists have discovered that a solidified whitish substance in an ancient jar dug up in Egypt is "probably the most ancient archaeological solid residue of cheese ever found".

Then they used state-of-the-art scanning techniques known as liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry.

The results revealed the sample was a dairy product made by mixing cow and goat or sheep milk, researchers said.

Pulled from the tomb of the late Ptahmes, 13th-century BC mayor of Memphis, Egypt, and still encased in the broken jar it was packed into, it hasn't fared well through all those years locked away in the depths of the desert earth. 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.

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

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It was riddled with a bacteria called Brucella Melitensis, which is potentially deadly and can cause stomach ache and a fever as well as other symptoms. Not only did the team find the world's oldest cheese, but they also found the first reported biomolecular evidence of this disease.

Dr Greco said: 'The interactions for thousands of years with the strong alkaline environment of the incorporating soil rich in sodium carbonate and the desertic conditions did not prevent the identification of specific peptide markers which showed high stability under these stressing conditions'.

But researchers believe the original piece of cheese weighed hundreds of grams, said Greco, who was a doctoral candidate at the University of Catania in Italy at the time. It was soon lost under drifting sands, only to be recovered more than a century later. Inside one of the fragmented jars, they noticed a powdery, "solidified whitish mass", according to a study published online July 25 in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Dr Greco added: "In conclusion, even if very ancient kefir or milk or dairy residues, coming from North African, Chinese and European excavations have been found and analysed, the present sample represent the oldest solid cheese so far discovered (3,200 BP)".

"The sample was accurately collected in order to avoid any kind of contamination".

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