Shipwreck Reveals 340-year-old Cheese

Ah, the beauty of a well-aged cheese. This summer, the affinage (cheese ripening) process reached new heights — or in this case, new depths — of maturity when a food believed to be cheese was discovered on the wreckage of the Swedish warship, Kronan.

Although the shipwreck was discovered in August 1980, divers continue to bring artifacts — more than 30,000 artifacts have thus far been recovered — to the surface. The remains are displayed at Kalmar County Museum in Sweden.

Lars Einarsson, director of the Kronan Project, says the low salinity in the Baltic Sea makes it free from the organisms that can deteriorate organic material, “therefore the conditions for preservation of archaeological remains are extremely favorable.”

Einarsson believes the substance, found inside a pewter jug deposited “deep down in the glacial clay, which constitutes the oxygen-free sediments on the site,” is some kind of a dairy product, probably 340-year-old cheese.

In a battle against the allied Danish-Dutch fleet on June 1, 1676, 800 men died and the Kronan was lost in the Baltic Sea. Its remains were discovered at a depth of 27 meters, 4 miles east of the Swedish island of Öland.

“After being brought to the surface, the canister emitted a distinct smell due to the expansion of the gas inside,” says Einarsson, who explained that gas inside the canister expanded when the pressure decreased closer to the water’s surface.

Researchers reacted to the canister’s smell and the sound of expanding gas by sealing it in plastic film and refrigerating it at the same temperature as the sea floor. The jug was opened in July by Einarsson’s conservation lab. The contents are now being analyzed.

The brutal sinking caused most materials to become fragmented, says Einarsson. “Broken down barrels originally containing beer, chopped meat and flour are the most common artifact.” He believes the food had been stored in a chest and its contents were flung afield following the shipwreck.

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