Life Science

Blue cheese and pale ale have been on the menu for longer than researchers thought

Poop preserved in ancient salt mines show evidence of surprising dietary habits and the shift to the modern gut microbiome

February 8, 2022
Three types of cheese, including blue cheese, sit on a charcuterie board with crackers. Three different half-full glasses of beer sit on the table in the background.
Researchers found molecular evidence of Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA, the fungi used to make blue cheese and beer, respectively, in preserved excrement dating back to the Iron Age. [Credit: Thomas Cizauskas | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Today, many charcuterie boards, servings of buffalo chicken and cobb salads feature blue cheese and possibly even a glass of beer. New evidence shows that humans’ taste for a cheese flavored by fungi may have begun as early as 800 B.C.

The Hallstatt salt mines in the Eastern Alps preserved excrement left behind by the workers who extracted salt from underground. Last year, researchers analyzed molecules on four samples of paleofeces, or very old human poop, and found evidence of blue cheese and pale ale consumption as early as the Iron Age nearly 3,000 years ago.

Join Scienceline reporter Delaney Dryfoos on a foray to unearth the dietary habits of European salt miners from the Bronze Age to the Baroque era.

You can also listen to this episode of the Scienceline podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Stitcher.

Music:
Krainer Waltz – Traditional Austrian and Slovenian Music by JuliusH | Pixabay License

About the Author

Delaney Dryfoos

Delaney Dryfoos graduated in 2019 from Duke University, where she studied biology, global health, policy journalism and media studies. She discovered her passion for science storytelling while running an environmental epidemiology study in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. She then moved to NYC to work for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. She grew up along the East Coast and, while not reading or writing about science, enjoys fiction, cooking, music and taking care of her wily dog Wesley.

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