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The local Korean deli uses cheese in many of their dishes; my friends from several other East Asian countries have commented that they still consider cheese to be unusual and not part of their normal diet. It is entirely possible that this is a sampling error, but I'm curious when cheese entered the Korean diet. (I did some google searching, but the results about modern Korean diet overwhelm the historical sources, and the historical sources don't refer to cheese at all.)

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    Note that "oriental food" served in the West is quite "Westernized" in both recipes and base materials. I have seen several documentaries about chinese food and it is quite different from what you would usually see at your local restaurant. – SJuan76 May 10 '15 at 23:12
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    Something like 90% of the population of Korea is lactose-intolerant: moofreechocolates.com/wiki/… (This statistic may be based on a low threshold for defining what is lactose-intolerance, e.g., they say 20% of French people are lactose-intolerant, but I think virtually 100% of the French eat cheese.) I live in a neighborhood in the US that is majority Korean, and we have a lot of Korean restaurants, supermarkets, and bakeries. I have seen very little dairy in these places. The bakeries do sell things like cream-filled pastries. – Ben Crowell May 11 '15 at 20:02
  • This question is a bit akin to asking "When did kimchi enter the Western diet?" Just because cheese (kimchi) is today sometimes consumed by some Koreans (Westerners), doesn't mean it's a regular part of the Korean (Western) diet. Probably more Koreans eat cheese than Westerners eat kimchi, but that is more probably due to Western culture being more dominant than the Korean one. Maybe 500 years ago the first Korean (Westerner) had the first taste of cheese (kimchi), but I don't think that's what you're looking for. – Kenny LJ May 13 '15 at 20:56
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    @BenCrowell most individuals who are lactose intolerant can handle small servings without ill effect (for example, 1 glass of milk per day). Lactose intolerance isn't going to affect the uptake of dairy in cuisine because it is so mild. – congusbongus May 15 '15 at 3:52
  • @congusbongus tell that to my sister who gets violently ill for days consuming something that's been prepared in a frying pan that has previously had butter in it and hasn't been very thoroughly cleaned... – jwenting May 15 '15 at 5:51
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1959, by a Belgian missionary named Ji Junghwan, who helped started domestic Korean cheese production at Imsil County.

Cheese was introduced to South Korea in 1959 by a Belgian missionary, who came to Jeollabuk-do to help people surviving the Korean War.

Lee, Cecilia Hae-Jin. "Keolla Do" Frommer's South Korea. 2nd ed. Vol. 775. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008. 19.

It was out of youthful ardor that he chose to be a missionary in Korea right after the war ... Ordained a priest in 1958, he arrived a the Diocese of Jeonju in 1959 and soon took on quite a few big adventures ... when he was appointed to Imsil he raised mountain goats and started to make cheese.

- The Korea Foundation, "Korea Focus - September 2012".

This marked the appearance of cheese in the Korean diet. Cheese is not a component in conventional Korean cooking, however, and consumption thereof remained (and in relative terms, continues to be) light for decades. As late as 1990, total cheese consumption was only 7,000[1] tonnes - around 20 grams per person.

Korean appetite for cheese has since experienced tremendous growth, driven particularly by the adoption of western style food such as pizzas. Nonetheless, as late as 2013, the South Korean per capita consumption of Cheese was only 2.2kg[2]. For comparison, the average American consumed 15.7kg[2] of cheese in the same year.

Sources:

  1. Canadian Dairy Information Centre
  2. Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs

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