Blocks of halloumi cheese dating back 2,600 years, along with a series of other artifacts, have been found in the rich area of Saqqara by Egyptian researchers on the Ministry of Antiquities’ latest expedition. The artifacts were inscribed with an ancient Egyptian script called Demotic, which is found on the Rosetta stone and dates the pieces back to the 26th and 27th Egyptian dynasties (664-404 BCE).
If you’re only interested in the cheese... well, it might be a little rough around the edges now. Large blocks of halloumi – which is made using goat's and sheep's milk and has a "squeaky" texture – were found inside large vessels, and we can only imagine the smell emanating from within.
The halloumi finds itself almost reaching the title of world’s oldest cheese, though that coveted prize goes to a 3,200-year-old block discovered in 2018. Sadly, cheese is not like wine or whiskey and does not get better over many years; you’d be hard-pressed to find collectors with stomachs enough for this stuff.
Halloumi was popular in 16th-century Eastern Mediterranean areas, though it is unclear when the first halloumi was made. Ancient Egyptians reportedly called white cheese “Haram” before the Coptic era changed this to “Haloum” – this is where the name halloumi finds its origins.
The area itself has become a treasure trove of ancient Egyptian artifacts and tombs since 2018. Since its beginning, the mission has gone through five archaeological seasons and discovered a unique tomb of the priest Wahiti, seven rock tombs, and many figures and statues from ancient Egypt. In 2020, the team also unveiled over 100 wooden coffins along with 40 statues of the god Saqqara, making for a remarkable sight.
There are now more vessels to open and uncover what’s inside – we can certainly hope for some crackers and chutney.