Anytime it comes to ingenious culinary creations—i.e. pizzas, cronuts, etc.—I have to know how it happened! The who, what, when, where, why’s of how these decadently “simple” (of course there are much more involved versions than others) recipes came to be! And today we are talking CHEESECAKE! A simple combination of cheese, eggs, and sugar—that have been around, in one form of another, since 2000 B.C.
First concocted in Ancient Greece, it was actually considered to be a good source of energy for athletes. It was even served at the very first Olympic games back in 776 B.C. Prior to the matches the athletes would eat cake to fuel up! A novel concept indeed—I’d know I’d hit the weights harder if cheesecake was involved—but undoubtedly an obsolete tradition.
Of course their recipe wasn’t quite what we know it as today. The Greeks used cheese, honey, and wheat flour. When the Romans conquered Greece, the cheesecake recipe was re-adapted to include eggs! As the Romans expanded their empire, the tradition and execution of making cheesecake would change hands many times. Great Britain and Eastern Europe would eventually begin making their rendition with added, along with an extra step of soaking the cheese in milk prior to incorporating the other ingredients. When Europeans immigrated to America, the tradition of making cheesecake followed and in 1872 a New York dairy farmer who was attempting to replicate the French cheese Neufchatel, accidentally made another ingenious culinary development…He invented CREAM CHEESE! Fast forward a few years and you have the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Company.
Leave it to another culinary explorer, Arnold Reuben a German immigrant and owner of the legendary Turf Restaurant at 49th and Broadway in New York City, to accidentally develop the first cream-cheese based cheesecake recipe! He allegedly came upon his take on the dessert when he fell in love with a friend’s cheesecake and decided to duplicate the recipe using the ingredients he had on hand—lucky for us, that included cream cheese! It wasn’t long after he perfected the recipe and began serving it in his restaurant that other restaurants took notice and the re-known New York-Style Cheesecake was born! A simple combination of cream cheese, cream, sugar, and eggs (extra egg yolks contributing to the signature flavor); served with just the cake—no fruit, chocolate or any other additions.
Of course New York isn’t the only place to have its signature cheesecake. In Chicago sour cream is added for an extra creamy bite! Over in Philadelphia, cheesecake is even creamier, but surprisingly lighter that it’s comrades. It can also be served with fruit, chocolate, or other sweet toppings. Across the pond you’ll find Italians use ricotta cheese, Greeks use mizithra or feta, Germans prefer cottage cheese, and in Japan they use a combo of cornstarch and egg whites. Even Haagen-Dazs jumped on the cheesecake bandwagon with a cheesecake-flavored ice cream and—get this—cheesecake flavored postage stamps! What do you think about that?!
For now, I’ll stick with the good old fashion cake version!