Thinking of it, there is not much positive to be said about the Middle Ages. A rather depressive period in European history. Inquisition, witch burning, The Black Death and lots more. From a Norwegian perspective during the early Middle Ages we had the Vikings running around.
But in the midst of all this darkness that we associate with the Middle Ages, there was actually a beam of light when it comes to the development of cheese. The very beginning of cheese started several thousand years earlier, but cheese as we know it today, and quite a few of the cheeses we enjoy with great pleasure, were created during this rather dull part of history. So not all negative.
Charles the Great
So here he reappears, Charles the Great. This is the very early part of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition and all that comes much later. But he laid a foundation, Charles the Great, because he was very fond of cheese.
With all his warfare he obviously needed an excellent nutrient. Moreover, he was an eager advocate for the distribution of the, after all, limited knowledge there was about making of cheese. We have come a long way since then, just mentioning it. But, as said, he laid a foundation, and that was an important one.
Battle at Stiklestad
That was 1030. But about that time have mentions of Swiss Sbrintz, at 1070 Roquefort is mentioned (That is just four years after the Battle of Stamford Bridge). About the same time we hear of, not we; they, Italian Taleggio and Gorgonzola. In Norway we made Skyr, fought battles to get the land Christianised, which was what the battle at Stiklestad in 1030 was more or less all about.
Skyr was later taken to Iceland where it has survived up till this day, while forgotten in Norway. Well, not altogether forgotten, still made for home use on farms on the west coast.
The dark Middle Ages
Enough said. About 1100 – 1200 things really started to happen. The Dutch develops their cheese greatness. Even today Holland is one of the world’s leading cheese exporters. But alas, most of it boring, made by industrial dairies.
If we look at the era from 1100 till 1400 there is one factor that is especially important for the development of cheese. The monks tarting to use copper vats for making cheese. Up till then they had used vats of stone or clay. The latter we know from wine making as well; the use of amphora. To some extent, in some areas there is a revival of amphoras, mostly for natural or orange wine making. Probably not so for cheese, even though wooden vats are still in use.
Cheese was very common as a barter, not to mention tithing. The church and monasteries demanded their share, of course. The alpine farmers used cheese to free themselves from the monasteries and land owners and started to cultivate pastures in the hillsides to lay the foundation for alpine cheese as we know it today.
From 1400 onward, cheese becomes an international commodity, lasting till about 1700th century, when decline set in because of all the wars raging. Religious wars, 30 years war and so on with a consequential decline in the economy, hitting cheese as a commodity hard.
The Age of Enlightenment
The above was followed by the Age of Enlightenment and the timid beginnings of cheese making as we still know it. The industrial revolution enables large scale industrial production, not necessarily a qualitative advancement, but still. Building of railways making way for effective distribution and chemists researching bacterial activity in cheese making, among other things, and pasteurization is discovered. Pasteurization is such an important discovery in most aspects, but not necessarily for cheese making, though.
Sort of a cliff notes version, this.