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Chapter 7 : The Microfloras and Sensory Profiles of Selected Protected Designation of Origin Italian Cheeses
To understand and appreciate the great cheeses of Sicily and other parts of Italy which we enjoy today, along with the microbes associated with them, it is necessary to review the historical context surrounding the rich and deep origins of these products. The Archestrato of Gela (4th century BCE) describes Sicilian cheeses as “the best and more flavorful than caseus of Lesbo and Creta.” Many Roman writers, including Cato the Elder (234–149 BCE), Varro (ca. 116–27 BCE), Columella, and Pliny the Elder, described the cheesemaking process, the quality, and the culinary uses of cheese. Cheesemaking was well known among the Romans, who spread the knowledge of cheesemaking during the Empire period, as evidenced by use of the word caseus, the root for casein, the principal milk protein that is coagulated to make cheese. The Romans improved the cheesemaking techniques of the Greeks when they introduced the use of cow's milk, which was uncommon at that time, since cows were used primarily to work the land and not for milk production. The Romans produced dairy products from sheep, goats, and cows, which they consumed fresh or aged. Milk left in wicker baskets spontaneously coagulated, or coagulation was quickened by continuous mixing with fig branches or the addition of fig juice or wild thistle seeds. In addition to thistle and fig, the Romans used saffron and vinegar. This composition was called coagulum. According to the Edict of Diocletian, milk was at that time inexpensive, approximately the same cost as a low-quality wine. In the summer, though, it was difficult to find because flocks were relocated for the transhumance toward mountain grazing.