The very vintage cheese was buried alongside Ptahmes - Mayor of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis - whose resting place was rediscovered in 2010 after being lost under the desert sand. Liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry indicate that the sample was either made from cow, sheep, or goat milk.
And while the sample retrieved by Greco's colleagues may be old, others have discovered traces of ancient cheese or yogurt (the two can be hard to distinguish) that long predate even the recent finding, Kindstedt said.
Aged cheeses might have an appeal but a 3,200-year-old sample of the popular dairy product found in Egypt may be just a little too old - and diseased - for even the most dedicated cheese connoisseurs. 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.
Older cheese residues discovered were typically attributed to natural fermented milk like yoghurt or kefir, but the discovery at Saqqara revealed no trace of proteins from natural milk fermentation, Greco said. The cheese was found wrapped with canvas inside a broken jar.
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The testing also showed that the sample contained a bacterium called Brucella melitensis, this bacterium is a deadly disease that spreads from animals to people. "The constituting material was a dairy product obtained by mixing sheep or goat and cow milk".
"As I say to my students every year when I get to Egypt, someone has to go ahead and analyze these residues with modern capabilities", said Kindstedt, who added that he plans to use Greco's paper in his teachings this fall.
If the researchers' suspicions are confirmed, the 3,200-year-old sample will also provide the world's oldest reported biomolecular evidence of brucellosis.
Despite finding the cheese, scientists have not been able to find the mummified body of Ptahmes nor the rest of his family.