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Medieval Cheese: Back in Good Graces

Did you know the man who helped shape how we think and write about cheese lived in Italy — in the 15th century? This post is the second in a series about Pantaleone da Confienza.

Pantaleone da Confienza, the first travel food writer, was on a seriously cheesy mission: to make cheese cool again. He traveled Europe, learning as much as he could about cheese and shared his knowledge in Summa lacticiniorum, published in 1475. The fascinating thing about his work is that cheese was extremely unpopular when he wrote his book. For various reasons, scholars in the Renaissance believed that cheese was unhealthy and should be avoided. Pantaleone strove to prove them wrong by doing what any good Duke’s doctor would do: name dropping. A good portion of the beginning of his book tells the reader the various powerful, influential and hip men of the time that were chowing down on cheese. It went something like, “Oh, did you hear about the (King, baron, solder, prince, or priest) and their love of (insert delicious Medieval cheesy concoction)?” Pantaleone played the celebrity name game and brought cheese back.

His methods were simple; share information with the public about cheese so the consumer could make an informed decision and make the cheese sound appealing. Sound familiar? With each new location, Pantaleone interviewed as many cheese producers, farmers and general cheese lovers as he could to find out what was available and how it was made. He personally went to farms and watched how they made their cheese. He was the first to emphasize the benefits of pooling resources and making cheese co-operatives in the cold months when production was slim. He believed that by pooling milk, tools and techniques local cheeses could expand their market. 

What better way to make cheese more popular than by making cheese sound appetizing? As he traveled, Pantaleone described as much about the cheese as he could think of. Each cheese was described by flavor, texture, color and shape. Nothing escaped his scrutiny. He discussed what milk went into each cheese and went as far as to describe the different breeds of an animal that would produce a variation on the cheese. Everything from climate, shape, rind, and paste was covered. He gave many a foundation for culinary descriptions and became the standard by which future food writers would set their standards.

 Make sure to check back later this week for the final addition of Medieval Cheese where we find out what cheeses Pantaleone preferred, how cheese can clean your teeth and how he forever changed the way people taste cheese.

Freedman, Paul. 2007. Food, The History of Taste. University of California Press.
Sitwell, William. 2013. A History of Food in 100 Recipes. Little, Brown and Company. 
Photo Credit to: Dr. Cheese 

Virginia Hyde

Virginia Hyde is a southern girl at heart who just moved to Boston to submerge herself in food - mainly cheese, to be honest. Game for any food-related adventure, festival, or gathering, she is ready to share her passion for cheese with others. Virginia is currently working on a Masters in Gastronomy at Boston University.