The Slatest

Should I Eat This 3,200-Year-Old Egyptian Tomb Cheese That’s Possibly Infected With a Deadly Disease?

Artist’s depiction of how great it must have been to eat this tomb cheese when it was fresh.
Artist’s depiction of how great it must have been to eat this tomb cheese when it was fresh.
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Painting via Wikimedia Commons.

Archaeologists have discovered some 3,200-year-old cheese in an Egyptian tomb, and scientists analyzing the sample believe it’s “probably the most ancient archeological solid residue of cheese ever found.” Their study, which was published last month in the journal Analytical Chemistry, noted there was also evidence of Brucella melitensis in the cheese. This bacterium causes brucellosis, a deadly disease that can be passed from animals to humans. In other words: I’m probably not going to eat this 3,200-year-old cheese.

A Saqqara Cairo University excavation unearthed the cheese from the tomb of Ptahmes, a mayor of Memphis whose resting place was built in the 13th century B.C. “We do not have much information on what the taste could be,” Enrico Greco, the lead author of the paper in Analytical Chemistry, said. “We know it was made mostly from sheep’s and goat’s milk, but for me it’s really hard to imagine a specific flavor.”

With all due respect to Greco and everyone involved, this cheese sounds terrible. I’m no archaeologist, but I just uncovered half a package of “American pasteurized process cheese product” in my refrigerator. I didn’t buy it and my wife doesn’t like American cheese, so its provenance is even more mysterious than that crusty tomb cheese. Unlike Greco and his team, I did not conduct proteomic analyses on the slices, yet I happen to know what the cheese tastes like. (It tastes vaguely like cheese.)

American pasteurized process cheese product.
I’m going to melt this incredible discovery between two pieces of toast.
Nick Greene

Sadly, no academic journals have accepted my research regarding this discovery. Science is not a contest, but the evidence proves that my cheese is far superior.

The case for the ancient cheese:
—It’s old, and sometimes old stuff tastes better.
—Archeologists found it in a “broken jar,” so it’s probably easy to spread.

The case against the ancient cheese:
—Likely filled with disease.
—Could kill you if you eat it.
—Scientists have been touching it. (Even with gloves that’s gross.)
—Ancient Egyptians didn’t finish it; maybe it’s just not very good.
—There’s a nonzero chance it is cursed.

The case for my six slices of new American cheese:
—Not filled with disease (probably).
—Won’t kill me with said disease. (I hope.)
—Expiration date is Nov. 1, 2018 C.E.
—No trans fat.
—Package says “organic,” which sounds healthy.

The case against my six slices of new American cheese:
—Individually wrapped, which is wasteful.
—No fancy academic papers written about it.
—Not going to rule out a curse here, either.

I hope that team of accomplished scientists enjoyed looking at ancient cheese under a microscope. I’ll be thinking of them at lunch, when I’m eating my cheese.

Update, 1 p.m. P.T.: I ate some of the Trader Joe’s cheese. It was fine.