Seminar: Cheese-making in the Scientific Revolution

Paolo Savoia, 'Cheese-making in the Scientific Revolution: Dairy Products and The History of Early Modern European Knowledge'

Seminar to be presented as part of the European History 1500-1800 seminar series

In the 1660s, members from the most important European scientific societies – including the Académie des Sciences in Paris, the Royal Society in London, and the Accademia del Cimento in Florence – debated animatedly issues such as the transformation of matter, the coagulation of fluids, and the artisanal manipulation of natural substances related to milk, dairy products, and cheese-making. This paper situates these 17th-century efforts at knowing the processes of cheese-making within the history of Renaissance and early modern European science and medicine from the late 15th century to the 18th century, taking into account the works of naturalists, physicians, agronomists, and natural philosophers. The history of cheese-making and knowledge is made of several intertwined threads: from early chemical analyses to medical dietetics, from skilled artisanship to husbandry, from cosmology to embryology, and from microscopic observation to folk practices. By raising important issues of natural philosophy, cheese-making in early modern Europe functioned like a seismographer recording the little shocks punctuating the so-called 'age of the new'.

This paper is being given as part of the IHR's seminar series on European History 1500-1800. This takes place in Past and Present Room N202, 2nd floor, IHR, North block, Senate House. Further details can be found here.

Image: Castle of Buonconsiglio, Trent, The cycle of the months, detail of the month of June (early 15th century). Women are shown milking, transporting milk in wooden containers, making butter, and making cheese by modelling the matter with their own hands.