World's Oldest Piece of Cheese Discovered in Egyptian Tomb

Not only was it old, it was poisonous.

By Ethan L. Johns
August 16, 2018

Image: The Necropolis of Saqqara, which contains the Tomb of Ptahmes. The Pyramid of Unas can be seen in the background. (Angel Villalba/Getty Images)

When we think of Egypt and the pyramids, we tend to think of mummified pharaohs, not mummified cheese.

Yet a piece of cheese—thought to be the world’s oldest—was exactly what researchers found in the tomb of Ptahmes, according to a new report published in the journal Analytical Chemistry last month (though it was not exactly mummified).

According to a release from the American Chemical Society, the Tomb of Ptahmes dates back to the 13th century B.C. It was first discovered and excavated in 1885, before being lost, literally, to the sands of time until 2010. After being uncovered for the second time, archaeologists found broken jars covered with cloth, one of which contained a solid mass.

After performing a chemical analysis on the mass, researchers found that it contained proteins consistent with those in cow, sheep or goat milk. The use of cheesecloth meant that this cheese was made to be hard, rather than soft.

While evidence of cheesemaking is thought to have been found from as far back as 7,000 B.C., actual cheese has not survived this long. The researchers believe that their find is a contender for the world’s oldest slice.

In a sinister twist, the cheese of the dead turned out to be potentially deadly. The researchers found traces of the bacteria that causes brucellosis, which is generally tied to the consumption of raw milk and meat from infected animals.

Could the cheese have killed Ptahmes? Probably not, but one thing is for sure: you do not want a taste of the world’s oldest piece of cheese.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns