340-year-old cheese discovered at shipwreck site and, man, does it stink

Aged to perfection? Probably not. This dairy product has been found on a 340-year-old shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. Researchers think it's cheese, but the stuff is too rank to determine by smell alone. And it probably wouldn't pass a taste test.
A dairy product, believed to be cheese, has been discovered at the wreck site of The Kronan. The Swedish warship sank before a battle with the Danish/Dutch allied fleet in 1676. (Kalmar County Museum)
Listen5:22

Divers exploring a sunken 17th-century gunship from Sweden say they have discovered what they believe to be cheese.

"The smell and the texture of the material really points in that direction," Lars Einarsson tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

I don't know if anyone is going to taste it.- Lars Einarsson

Einarsson, the marine archeologist who heads up The Kronan Project, thinks that the cheese smells like a mix of yeast and Roquefort.

"When it was opened the first time, it was really overwhelming, in a positive way. It was smelling 'live,' as opposed to dead organic material, which doesn't smell very nice. It seemed to be alive."

The material was found in a tin at the wreck site of The Kronan, the largest ship of its time. It sank in 1676 in the Baltic Sea, which helped preserve the cheese all these years.

The Baltic Sea is a ideal for preservation of the cheese, according to Einarsson. The low salinity, along with the fact that the ship sank in clay, helped seal the pewter canister away like a time capsule waiting to be opened.

Lars Einarsson is a marine archeologist and director of The Kronan Project. (Lars Einarsson)

When asked if anyone would dare bite into the 340-year-old cheese, Einarsson paused.

"I don't know if anyone is going to taste it. We are quite optimistic about getting an analysis of the chemical makeup of the product though."

The cheese has been sent to a lab and Einarsson hopes to have the results of what exactly they have within a month. He adds that it may wind up on display some day.

"If it's possible in terms of preservation, we'll definitely [put it on display.] But first of all, we have to safeguard the material."

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