The Assize of Bread has proved to be a rich source of information for the study of this most staple of foodstuffs. The Assize has been written about at great length by many authors, but most works concentrate on the socio-economic impact of the legislation rather than the bread itself. Do we actually know how a medieval loaf of bread was made? I suggest that it is by investigating and experimenting with the method of manufacturing of bread rather than concentrating on the Assize details which will lead us to a much closer understanding of the bread our forebears consumed.
Artisanal food producers underscore their recovery of ‘traditional’ foodways, but in the case of cheese, even the smallest and slowest commercial producers are not replicating premodern cheesemaking methods, which lacked thermometers, refrigeration, and bleach, among other conveniences. My paper explores the (sometimes startling) material realities of cheesemaking in the early medieval British Isles, from husbandry practices that secured lactating animals’ milk for human consumption, to technologies for creating curdling agents from plant proteases or animal maws, to the aging of cheeses used for food rents and Lenten fare during the winter. Special consideration will be given to toponymic and archaeological evidence for an interdependent relationship among salt production, sheep farming, and cheesemaking in coastal England, comparable to the present-day partnership between Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and Parma ham.