As far as food holidays go, National Cheesecake Day definitely ranks pretty high up on the list. The cold, creamy dessert always seems to hit the spot this time of year, especially when paired with the fresh produce of summer. But where did the modern cream cheese cake get it’s start?
The ancient Greeks are widely credited with inventing the cheesecake, and historians believe it may have been consumed by athletes in the first Olympic games in 776 BC. However, it was a far cry from the graham-cracker crust version you see today: most ancient cheesecake variations included cheese which had been pounded into a paste and mixed with flour and honey. The Romans adopted the dish from the Greeks and made their own additions, like eggs, poppy seeds, and occasionally a pastry crust. As the Roman empire expanded, cheesecake moved through Europe and eventually made its way to America.
Cheesecake still wouldn’t evolve into our modern version until the advent of cream cheese, which was an accidental invention in 1872 by New York farmer William Lawrence. Lawrence would go on to found the Philadelphia Cream Cheese company in 1880, making cream cheese available on a smaller scale before being purchased by Kraft in 1928, when it was distributed nationwide. In 1929, Arnold Reuben of New York City’s Turf Restaurant made cheesecake with cream cheese while other eateries were using cottage cheese in their recipes, making what is generally credited as the first New York-style cheesecake. And the rest, as they say, is cheesy history.
Today, cheesecake has never been hotter. Many parts of the country have laid claim to their own versions made with all different types of soft cheeses, and it seems everyone has their own secret to the perfectly light, airy cake. One of our favorite parts of the dessert? It’s easy enough to make a chilled version when it’s just too hot to turn on the oven. We liked this no-bake mascarpone, sour cream, and cream cheese version, topped with roasted cherries. Or try portioning the cakes out into individual jars for easy serving, and topping with jam for even easier preparation. Or allow the cheese to really take center stage with a goat cheese cheesecake, simply dressed with honey.
Cheesecake also plays well with other desserts: chocolate chip cookie cheesecake sounds pretty good to us! Or maybe cheesecake-marbled brownies are more up your alley (we must admit, combining chocolate and cheese is one of our favorite things). For the steamiest of days, eat your cheesecake frozen, à la boozy cheesecake popsicles. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore the great wide world of cheesecake—no matter how you slice it, you’re guaranteed a delicious dessert, sure to please a crowd.
Photo by Heather Homemade