The History of Cheesecake
If you’re an American, you might assume that cheesecake originated in New York, but this is only partly true. You’d be right that the extra-rich, no-toppings-necessary style of cheesecake came about in the Big Apple, but the sweet itself has a much older history.
It’s time for dessert! Are you lusting over that dense, sweet, cheesy slab in front of you? You’re not the first one – not by a long shot. In fact, the first known origins of cheesecake stretch back to Ancient Greece. Writer Athenaeus allegedly crafted the first recipe, calling for a mere three ingredients: cheese, honey, and flour. It sounds simple, but these cakes were so popular, they were even served at the first Olympic games. Once the conquering Romans got a taste, they couldn’t resist spreading the recipe to the rest of their empire, and from there the dessert took off like wildfire. By 1000 A.D., cheesecake recipes could be found across Great Britain, Scandinavia, and all of Western Europe.
As the love of cheesecake grew, regional recipe variations began to crop up. Romans baked their cakes under a hot brick, and the French soaked their cheese in milk for three hours before combining it with eggs, butter, and sugar. When Europeans began emigrating to America, they took cheesecake with them, and eventually created another regional specialty—cheesecakes made with cream cheese.
Cream cheese originated in the United States when a New York dairy farmer attempted to recreate Neufchatel, a fresh French cheese. His mistake was the beginning of a multi-million dollar business, and cream cheese was packaged and sold under the now-iconic Philadelphia name only three years after his discovery.
Today, cheesecake is one of the most popular desserts in the United States, and has many variations across the country. The dessert can be baked, or simply chilled in order to create its signature texture. Depending on the region you’re in (or what struck the cook’s fancy) cream cheese may be substituted for cottage cheese, sour cream, farmer’s cheese, ricotta, or mascarpone. Famous New York-style cheesecake utilizes additional egg yolks for added richness, and skimps on toppings. An extra dose of sour cream is added to cheesecake in Chicago to keep it ultra creamy, and bakers in Philly boast a light, yet rich flavor and top their cakes with fruit or chocolate. Back in its homeland of Greece, cheesecake today is made with traditional Mizithra, a fresh cheese made by combining goat or sheep’s milk and whey.
July 30th is National Cheesecake Day. What type of curd will you use in your dessert?