Apicius et l’antique fromage normand
1800 years ago, the Roman Empire spreads across the Mediterranean Sea. A food amateur named Apicius hear about a cheese, made at the edge of the Empire, in Northern Gauls, at the mouth of the Seine River. Willing to know more about it, our cook undertakes a long journey. He arrives by boat in Rotomagus, presently Rouen ! Apicius takes the most direct road to get near Uggate, nowadays Caudebec-lès-Elbeuf. where the famous cheese is made. He uses the road that goes through the Rouvray loop, still visible these days. After two hours by cart, he sees, on the side of the road, a pannel indicating a dairy. Our cook decides to jump from the cart to visit this farm. Apicius comes to the exploitation. Recent archaeological excavations have revealed an agricultural area with an former pond and a plot surrounded by ditches. The soil study showed that the ground was more fertile. Other spaces were undoubtedtly forested. Charcoal analysis indicates that forest border shrubs have been used as fuel. According to the unearthing of sheep remains and a force pair used for sheep shearing, Apicius must have gone across a meadow. The owner invites our gastronome to enter. Housing is modest. It includes a house of about 150 m² and two little constructions at the corners of the garden. Of the last one, we know almost nothing, if only a hedge. At the back of the residency was a cellar. The entry was outside of the building. As soon as he enters, The customer discovers a painted decoration on the staircase wall. In this cellar, sheep cheese was aged on shelves from which were only found iron brackets. A sump helps to keep a stable hydrometry. But let’s go back to our sheep business… Before getting to the cellar, cheese is milk. Milking sheep was done next to the cellar where numerous bowls with a pouring spout in the shape of a lion’s head were found. They helped with pouring milk into jugs, used for storage. A semi-open room is contiguous to one of the small corner buildings. Even if ventilated, this 8m² room has a built floor maybe to ease with the disposal of liquids since remains of large basins have been found there. It’s probably there that milk was curdled. Once curdled, the solid part is separated from the whey with a strainer above a jar. This operation was done in the kitchen. Cheese strainers of 10 cm of diameter were found there, with a central peak and rings. They give a recognizable shape to the cheese after the molding. To summarize, the milk is poured in a big bowl to curdle Rennet is added in a dry and well ventilated area the curdled milk is separated from the whey with a strainer then the curdle is placed in a linen and a cheese strainer to be pressed. During this step, the cheese gets its ringed shape. It is then aged in a cellar for weeks. It was certainly looking like a ewe tomme. Apicius must have tasted it within the cellar, a big knife, jugs and cups were found there. These ringed cheese strainers are only found in Ancient farms, a few kilometers around Uggate. They represent the vestiges of the oldest Norman cheese forgotten until today.