We all remember our first slice of cheesecake-that gooey, delicious dessert that almost melted in our mouths. What you may not have realized is that the original cheesecake looked and tasted nothing like what we enjoy today. Before you grab another slice of this tasty dessert, take some time to learn about the cheesecake origins you never knew.
Cheesecake History Starts in Ancient Greece
The first cheese cakes were thought to be made in Ancient Greece. On the island of Samos, archaeologists reported they found cheese molds that dated back to 2,000 B.C.-that means cheesecake is more than 4000 years old! In Ancient Greece, cheesecake was not the creamy dessert treat we recognize today. Instead, athletes used it as an energy source before the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. and newlyweds served it at their wedding reception.
The Greek writer Athenaeus is credited with recording the original cheesecake recipe. The simple cake included just wheat,flour, honey and cheese. The cheese was pounded until it was smooth, mixed with honey and wheat flour then the batter was heated and served.
Roman Influences on the Original Cheesecake Recipe
When Romans conquered Greece, they took the opportunity to put their own twist on the cheesecake recipe. Romans crushed the cheese, instead of pounding it, and added eggs to the mixture. Like the Greeks, Romans served their cheesecake-or "libuma", as they called it, on special occasions. Politician Marcus Cato was the first Roman to write down their version of the recipe.
The Cheesecake Discovery takes over Europe
As Romans moved through Europe, they brought cheesecake along. Soon, all of Eastern Europe and Great Britain was enjoying the cake. Each region used ingredients unique to the area and the cheesecake we recognize began to take shape. The biggest change to the original cheesecake recipe came during the 18th century, when beaten eggs were used instead of yeast. This made cheesecake less like bread and more like cake.
When Europeans came to America, they brought the cheesecake recipe along. Little did they know, they were opening this recipe up to one of its most distinctive changes. In 1872, a New York dairy farmer was trying to make Neufchatel at his home. Instead of recreating the French cheese, the farmer made the first cream cheese. The distinctive cheese was packaged under the Philadelphia brand and sold in 1875. More than 50 years later, the Kraft Company purchased the cream cheese recipe and is still making it today.
The Original New York Style Cheesecake
New York cheesecake is a favorite for its smooth texture that comes from extra egg yolks. In the 1900's, cheesecake was the hot dessert at New York restaurants-just about every restaurant had its own version on the menu. However none of these were the New York cheesecake we know today. The unique cheesecake is said to have its origins with a sandwich maker. According to the story, sandwich shop owner Arnold Reuben (1883-1970) attended a dinner party at which the hostess served a cheese pie. Rueben said he was so intrigued by the pie that he kept experimenting with the recipe until New York cheesecake was born.
More American Additions to Cheesecake History
New York is not the only place in America to claim a distinct way to make cheesecake. Pennsylvania Dutch cheesecake uses farmer's cheese, which has bigger curds and more water than other kinds of cheese. The "country-style" version of cheesecake uses buttermilk to get more texture and increase the cake's shelf life.
Cheesecake Variations Around the World
Countries around the world are still putting their own spins on the classic dessert as well. In Bulgaria, a cheesecake will be made with cream cheese and a heavy souring cream known as smetena. French cheesecake used Neufchael cheese and gelatin to keep the cheese together. Meanwhile in Poland, cheesecakes are made with fresh cheese known as quark.