The history of cheese dates back thousands of years. Although nobody really knows who made the first cheese, an old legend says it was an Arabian trader who made it on accident. It seems he put his supply of goat’s milk into a pouch made of sheep’s stomach, and he set off in a caravan across the desert. The sun’s heat worked its way into the sheep pouch and caused the milk to separate into curds and whey. When the traveler opened his pouch at the end of a long day, he found an edible surprise — the whey satisfied his thirst and the curds (cheese!) satisfied his hunger. Visual evidence for cheese starts showing up in Egyptian tomb murals from about 2000 BC. The earliest written records of cheese are probably the Sumerian cuneiform texts of Third Dynasty Ur, dating to the 1900’s BC.
The history of cheese continued to Europe when Asian traders showed up with the basic recipes. By the height of the Roman Empire, cheese was made in dozens of varieties, and it spread as far north as England. From the fall of the Roman Empire until the discovery of America, cheese skills were all the rage among the monks of Europe’s monasteries. For instance, Gorgonzola traces its roots to 879 AD and a monastery in the Po Valley of Italy. Roquefort probably had its start in 1070 at a monastery in Conques, France. Cheeses such as Cheddar, Swiss, and Parmesan are relatively new cheeses, only on the scene for the last 500 years or so.
When the Pilgrims made their voyage to America in 1620, they brought cheese aboard the Mayflower. The history of cheese in the New World soon spread throughout the local farm communities of the eastern colonies. In 1851, Jesse Williams built the first cheese factory in the U.S. in Oneida County, New York.
Of course, the demand for cheese in the United States grew. As the population moved west, “cheese central” became the rich farmlands of Wisconsin. In the 1840’s, a group of Swiss immigrants settled in Green County, Wisconsin and started making foreign cheese varieties in America. Many Wisconsin farmers believed their future survival was tied to cheese and they built their first Limburger cheese factory in 1868.
The rest is cheese history… That is, until 1965, when “cheese in a can” was first introduced to the world! Commonly known as spray cheese, aerosol cheese, or Cheese Whiz, this marketing wonder was originally launched as Snack Mate – “instant cheese for instant parties!” As the first ads declared, this was “cheese that goes anywhere!” In 1984, Nabisco sold Snack Mate to Kraft, who changed the name to Easy Cheese.