Ancient mummies found buried with world’s oldest cheese

World’s oldest cheese found on ancient mummies
The world’s oldest cheese, which looked like small yellowish lumps, was found on ancient mummies. Pictured is a 12-year-old cheddar cheese from Wisconsin.
(Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

For some cheese lovers, the older and stinkier the cheese, the better. Well, what about a cheese that’s been aging for 3,600 years?  

Yellow lumps, believed to be the world’s oldest cheese, were found on mummies buried in the Taklamakan Desert in northwestern China. The cheese, which was found during archaeological excavations that took place between 2002 and 2004, dates to as early as 1615 BC.

The cheese was found on the necks and chests of the mummies. The multiple layers of cowhide the mummies were buried in, and the dry, salty desert helped preserve the cheese.  

Researchers from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences collected 13 samples of the yellow lumps from 10 tombs. A German team performed a protein analysis in Dresden and discovered the lumps were a cheese made from kefir fermentation rather than butter or milk. 


Instead of using rennet, a common enzyme from a calf intestine used to make cheese, a mix of Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens, a bacteria commonly found in kefir today, was used to ferment milk and make the cheese. 

The milk could have been drank as a probiotic drink or curdled and strained to make the cheese. 

According to Discovery News, this type of cheese would have been digestible by lactose-intolerant people. The same ingredients and technique are still used today to make lactose-free kefir probiotic drinks and kefir cheese, which is similar in appearance to cottage cheese.   

Want more quirky food news? Follow me on Twitter: @Jenn_Harris_



Easy dinner recipes: Rich seafood chowders in an hour or less

New nutrition labels: Because we’re eating the entire bag of chips

Roy Choi’s Pot: Expect double-dipping, 10 types of hot pot and a late March opening

Get our weekly Tasting Notes newsletter