Editorial for July 2009: Looking into the Past: Reviewing 2 Institutions and 2 Books


inline image

As we grow older, we develop a deeper appreciation for the past. Not only do we then reminisce about childhood, school years, and career, but most of us also become avid readers of history books and repeat visitors to museums, even collect memorabilia. There are several famous science/technology museums in the world and all dedicate some space to food technology. Several of you may own and cherish old items from the food literature. One who comes to mind was Dr. Max Ernst Schulz, who, at the German Dairy Research Center in Kiel, gradually built an extensive personal library of classic books of interest to the dairy industry and milk researchers.

The objective of this editorial/review is to encourage the young to occasionally stop pressing forward and also pay attention to what has been. The wisdom of a profession is captured in its early artifacts and its words and illustrations. We ought to pause at times and reflect on how it all began. The look back may make you smile or strike you with awe; you may even wonder how future generations will assess your own achievements.

  • 1Do yourself a favor and visit http://www.chemheritage.org. The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) in Philadelphia was founded in 1980, and today 30 organizations are affiliated with it, notably the 2 charter members: American Chemical Society and American Inst. of Chemical Engineers. In my opinion, IFT ought to be included now because it commands a significant presence in the field of chemistry. The major parts of CHF are the Othmer Library of Chemical History (1988) and its arm, the Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry (1987), both devoted to foster a community of visiting scholars. CHF has a highly trained staff of historians, science-education specialists, librarians, curators, archivists, editors, development experts, public affairs specialists, and administrative personnel. The library, which is open to all users, contains more than 100,000 items of primary resources related to the history of the chemical and molecular sciences, technologies, and industries. There is an impressive oral history collection covering numerous noteworthy personalities. A special Neville collection includes many of the most important works in the history of science and technology with items from as far back as the 15th century. CHF also has classroom resources and sponsors frequent events. Its free quarterly magazine reaches 20,000 readers; you may want to begin collecting it. CHF is worth a visit, if not in person then at least via its web site.
  • 2In 1998, several individuals affiliated with the dairy industry in the area around Cologne, Germany, created something very similar to CHF. The physical installations, meant to become a museum, are still in their infancy, but the worldwide web of today makes it possible to get a good look now at the organization and its holdings. The home page of the association is at http://www.verein-milch-und-kultur.eu/milch-und-kultur.html. Loosely translated, it is the Foundation of Milk in Society and Culture, officially known as “Milch & Kultur Rheinland und Westfalen e.V.” Its language is German, and mission of the association is threefold: a) to always remember milk and its importance as a food, along with the procedures of converting milk to dairy products; b) to point out the economic importance of milk and its role in the development of human societies and regional cultures; and c) singling out milk production and processing within the overall agricultural spectrum. Initial objective of the founders was to salvage archives, objects, traditions, and memories associated with the dairy industry of a specific area at the time when the well-known Milk Cooperative Cologne-Wuppertal was being taken over by Campina, the huge Dutch dairy cooperative, which in 2008 merged with Royal Frieslands Foods and is now known as Friesland Campina (7,000 employees). The web site shown above bears testimony to the steady growth of this group's acquisitions and activities. Much gets lost whenever such changes occur. So far, the organization has published 8 books (2 of them discussed below) and has several ongoing archival projects, including the largest collection of glass milk bottles in Germany, possibly Europe. Any CRFSFS readers who are collectors of dairy industry artifacts or who are intrigued by the attempts to set up dairy museums are advised to shop for ideas in this unique, ambitious, and still budding German installation.
  • 3Both groups described above have in their archives 2 different books by Conrad Gesner (1515--1565). The German milk and dairy aficionados saw to it that a recently discovered (after 450 years) original text was translated from the Latin. Kudos for that labor of love must go to Dr. Siegfried Kratzsch, Halle. His translation into German, along with a reprint of the 52-page original, was published in 1996 by Dr. Carl-Ludwig Riedel, Krefeld. The book has 183 pages and also contains 35 pages of commentary by the translator and bibliographic information about Gesner by Dr. Dieter Hansen, Berlin. More than a dozen antique illustrations are included to make this paperback an affordable acquisition (available for under 50 Euros from 2., above). Booklovers, philologists, historians, and especially participants in the dairy industry would want to be owners of this and similar unique items. It is mentioned here because this particular Gesner text can be considered the first comprehensive review of milk and milk products ever published (in 1541 by Christoph Froschauer, Zurich). Gesner was a respected and prolific physician/historian/author. His “Libellus de lacte, et operibus lactariis, philologus pariter ac medicus” (About Milk and Milk Products, an Overview for Philologists and Medical Practitioners) is a fascinating collection of writings about the subject by earlier authors; in other words, it is a comprehensive review (at that time) of what the Greeks Dioscurides, Galen, Aetios, Homer, Aristophanes, and the Romans Pliny the Elder, Columella, Cato, Varro, Palladius, and several others had said about the nature of milk and its origins, treatments, nutritional benefits, and change-over into such creations as whey, curd, cheese, butter, and even products of medical value. Some of these no longer exist and have no equivalent English term. For example, aphrogala seems to have been a popular milk foam, possibly a forerunner of whipped cream; and oxygala was a soured milk product, most likely what eventually became dahi, kefir, kumiss, and yogurt in other parts of the world.
  • 4Here is another “old” book that counts among the first in food science. It is 120 years younger than the one above at 3. It has also been “unearthed” and republished in its German translation by the group “Milch und Kultur” described in 2., above, and ought to find its rightful place in the archives of the Chemical Heritage Foundation introduced to you in part 1., above. Here is a condensed review of the book written in German by Dr. Eckhard Schlimme that was rendered into English by Axel Mixa, an accomplished translator of German dairy technology books:

Martin Schoock: A Treatise on Butter and on the Aversion to Cheese. Translated into German by Dr. Siegfried Kratzsch from the Latin, originally published in 1664 by Johann Coellens, Groningen. Published (in German) by Dr. Carl-Ludwig Riedel and Dr. Dieter Hansen, Verlag Milch und Kultur, Koeln, 2008, 215 pages, ISBN 978-3-9810663-3-3.

This first monograph on butter and cheese is almost 350 years old and now available in German for the first time, with numerous footnotes, an extensive keyword index, and 44 pages of comments by the publishers, as well as 30 illustrations. It can now be accessed by readers as a source on the history of dairying specifically and history of science and technology in general. The publishers, editors, and translator are to be commended for their efforts. Martin Schoock (1614--1669), a Dutch polymath, professor of classic literature, logic, physics, and history in Groningen and Frankfurt (Oder) was the author of about 50 publications dealing with philosophy, philology, and the natural sciences.

This monograph is in the form of an “exercitatio academica” on butter with 27 chapters and on cheese with 10 chapters. It is a unique treatise in that it deals with these 2 dairy products not only as food and therapeutic remedy, but also as economic/cultural commodities as recorded throughout the literary history of antiquity up to the time of the author's life. The physiologic action of 2 products is discussed according to the humoral/heat theory put forth by Hippocrates and Galen. But the author also displays his understanding of current techniques based on his precise observations of Dutch butter and cheese makers. He speaks of the dependence of butter quality on seasonality and bovine breeds, comments on the benefits of blending summer and winter butter, the practices of coloring butter, the importance of animal age and their feed and regionality on cheese quality, and the behavior of milk during curdling with calf rennet or with plant extracts (white thistle or fig, which had been used since antiquity). Today such treatises could be used as idea generators for modern investigators. Expounding on cheese aversions, the author objectively assessed individual human revulsions towards cheese and other foods. He thought some individuals to possess a “secret natural instinct of dislike” and searched the literature for case histories, but in the end concluded that such individual idiosyncrasies could not be generalized.

Schoock's monograph is an impressive document, it reflects his broad knowledge, and it is an example of a comprehensive review, and therefore included here, because the author cites 225 other authors, about one-half from his century, 25 from the Middle Ages, and 85 from antiquity (including 10 from the Bible). Schoock also shines through his specific insights into the artisanal technologies of buttermaking and cheese manufacture.