The first rat cheese was made in the early eighteenth century by ship-wrecked French sailors. On an uninhabited tropical island in the Pacific the stranded mariners found themselves amid a natural abundance of food. But with no women or large animals, and a repetitive diet of fruit and fish, they soon began to long for the comforts of home.
The ship's surgeon, Marcel Loussier, came up with an ingenious idea. The ship's rats had effectively colonised the island. Loussier put his sailors to work. Traps were set and rats captured. The men with the nimblest fingers were given the job of milking rats.
Fifteen years later, in 1735, a Dutch frigate stumbled across Loussier's island. The Dutch seafarers were astonished to find a tropical paradise inhabited by a band of ragged, bearded Frenchmen, dining on fine cheeses that more than equalled anything being produced in Europe.
When Loussier returned to France he used his naval pension to establish the world's first commercial rodent dairy. It was an immediate success and expensive rat cheeses were soon all the rage in Parisian society. By the mid-nineteenth century the popularity of rat cheese had begun to wane, and in modern times it seemed doomed to become little more than a curiosity.