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Why Did Humans Start Eating Cheese in the First Place?

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By Chris Gayolami


Cheese is nearly unrivaled in its culinary versatility, as comfortable on a silver platter as it is on a greasy slice of pizza. But if you take a moment to think about it, cheese is a pretty strange thing to eat. Really, who thought it would be a good idea give smelly, old, coagulated milk — swimming with bacteria, no less — a taste in the first place?

Our early prehistoric ancestors, it turns out. A new study of 7,500-year-old pottery pieces found in the Polish region of Kuyavia found pretty convincing evidence of early cheese-making. Researchers at the University of Bristol in Britain analyzed fatty acids embedded in the nooks and crannies of the ceramics (which bore a striking resemblance to modern cheese strainers) and found that they were used to separate milk into curds (the stuff we mold into cheese) and whey (the cloudy, lactose-rich stuff we take out). The milk residue found in the ancient sieves "constitutes the earliest direct evidence for cheese-making," said study co-author Mélanie Salque, writing in the journal Nature.

But why start eating cheese in the first place? According to Paul Kindstedt, author of Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and Its Place in Western Civilization, cheese gave early humans an abundant protein source that was easier to store and transport than milk. Plus, cheese allowed humans to avoid slaughtering precious livestock for food.

Another mark in cheese's favor: It was easier to digest for our adult ancestors than milk, especially since most were likely lactose intolerant. "All mammals including humans naturally produce lactase at birth, which enables the newborns to digest their mothers' milk," writes Kindstedt.

However, lactase production normally declines in mammals after weaning and does not persist into adulthood. Therefore, when adult humans consume milk, the lactose remains undigested and disrupts the gut microflora, triggering a number of noteworthy side effects such as explosive diarrhea, flatulence, and bloating.

Curds, on the other hand, thanks to the separation and removal of the lactose (i.e. the whey), were easier to digest in modest amounts, and it probably didn't take long for our ancestors to realize it. This allowed grown-ups to enjoy protein-rich dairy for the first time, and you the pizza, nachos, and grilled-cheese sandwiches you scarf down today.

As for who actually discovered cheese, sadly, that will likely remain a mystery, although it's fun to speculate how the happy accident occurred. Maybe an early traveler opened a container of milk only to discover it had somehow curdled after a hot day. And just maybe they were curious and brave enough to give the weird-looking stuff a try.

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Animals
Watch a Rogue Pet Dog Interrupt a Russian News Anchor on Air
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Last week, a Russian news broadcast briefly went to the dogs after its host was startled by a surprise co-anchor: a friendly black canine that wandered on set, announced its presence with a loud bark, and climbed onto her desk.

 

As TODAY reports, Mir24 TV anchor Ilona Linarte went off script for a few minutes, telling viewers "I've got a dog here. What is this dog doing in the studio?" After the initial shock wore off, she gave her furry guest a tepid welcome, patting its head as she gently pushed it off the desk. ("I actually prefer cats,'' Linarte remarked. "I'm a cat lady.")

Linarte’s query was answered when the TV station announced that the dog had accompanied another show’s guest on set, and somehow got loose. That said, rogue animals have a proud tradition of crashing live news broadcasts around the world, so we’re assuming this won’t be the last time a news anchor is upstaged by an adorable guest star (some of which have better hair than them).

[h/t TODAY]

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Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0
SpaceX Is Sending Two Private Citizens Around the Moon
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Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

Two members of the public are set to take an historic trip around the Moon, according to an announcement from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. As The Verge reports, the anonymous private citizens have already placed substantial deposits on the commercial space flight.

The private spacecraft company SpaceX revealed on Monday that the Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching with its Crew Dragon spacecraft in late 2018. The mission will consist of a circumnavigation of the Moon, passing over the body’s surface before traveling farther into space and returning to Earth. In total, the trip will cover 300,000 to 400,000 miles and take a week to complete.

A noteworthy part of the plan is the human cargo that will be on board. Instead of professional astronauts, the craft will carry two paying customers into space. The passengers, who’ve yet to be named, will both need to pass several fitness tests before they're permitted to make the journey. According to The Verge, Musk said the customers are “very serious” and that the cost of the trip is “comparable” to that of a crewed mission to the International Space Station. The goal for SpaceX is to eventually send one or two commercial flights into space each year, which could account for 10 to 20 percent of the company’s earnings.

[h/t The Verge]

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