Now days there are hundreds of different cheesecake recipes. The ingredients are what make one cheesecake different from another. The most essential ingredient in any cheesecake is cheese (the most commonly used are cream cheese, Neufchatel, cottage cheese, and ricotta.)
Ever since the dawn of time, mankind has striven to create the perfect cheesecake. The earliest history of the art is lost, but we know that cheesecake was already a popular dish in ancient Greece. With the Roman conquest of Greece, the secret fell into Roman hands. The Roman name for this type of cake (derived from the Greek term,) became “placenta.” Placenta was more like a cheesecake, baked on a pastry base, or sometimes inside a pastry case. They were also called “libum” by the Romans, and were often used as an offering at their temples to their gods.
1st Century A.D. Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 B.C.) was a Roman politican. His treatise on agriculture, De Agricultura or De Re Rustica, is the only work by him that has been preserved. He wrote about farming, wine making, and cooking among other things. This is his recipe for libum, the small sweet cake often given as a temple offering:
Libum to be made as follows: 2 pounds cheese well crushed in a mortar; when it is well crushed, add in 1 pound bread-wheat flour or, if you want it to be lighter, just 1/2 a pound, to be mixed with the cheese. Add one egg and mix all together well. Make a loaf of this, with the leaves under it, and cook slowly in a hot fire under a brick.
Small cheesecakes were served to athletes during the first Olympic Games held in 776 B.C. on the Isle of Delos.
230 A.D. – According to John J. Sergreto, author of Cheesecake Madness, The basic recipe and ingredients for the first cheesecake were recorded by Athenaeus, a Greek writer, in about A.D. 230:
Take cheese and pound it till smooth and pasty; put cheese in a brazen sieve; add honey and spring wheat flour. Heat in one mass, cool, and serve.
1000 A.D. – Cheesecake were introduced to Great Britain and Western Europe by the Roman conquering armies. By 1000 A.D., cheesecakes were flourishing throughout Scandinavia, England, and northwestern Europe.
1545 – A cookbook from the mid 16th century that also includes some accounts of domestic life, cookery and feasts in Tudor days, called A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye, declarynge what maner of meates be beste in season, for al times in the yere, and how they ought to be dressed, and serued at the table, bothe for fleshe dayes, and fyshe dayes, has a recipe for a cheesecake:
To make a tarte of Chese – Take harde Chese and cutte it in slyces,and pare it, than laye it in fayre water, or in swete mylke, the space of three houres, then take it up and breake it in a morter tyll it be small, than drawe it up thorowe a strainer with the yolkes of syxe egges, and season it wyth suger and swete butter, and so bake it.
New York Cheesecake:
New York cheesecake is the pure, unadulterated cheesecake with no fancy ingredients added either to the cheesecake or placed on top of it. It is made with pure cream cheese, cream, eggs, and sugar. Everybody has a certain image of New York Style Cheesecake. According to New Yorkers, only the great cheesecake makers are located in New York, and the great cheesecake connoisseurs are also in New York. In the 1900s, cheesecakes were very popular in New York. Every restaurant had their version. I believe the name “New York Cheesecake” came from the fact that New Yorkers referred to the cheesecakes made in New York as “New York Cheesecake.” New Yorkers say that cheesecake was not really cheesecake until it was cheesecake in New York.
1929 – Arnold Reuben, owner of the legendary Turf Restaurant at 49th and Broadway in New York City, claimed that his family developed the first cream-cheese cake recipe. Other bakeries relied on cottage cheese. According to legend, he was served a cheese pie in a private home, and he fell in love with the dessert. Using his hostess recipe and a pie she made with ingredients he provided, he then began to develop his own recipe for the perfect cheesecake. Reuben soon began to serve his new recipe in his Turf Restaurant, and the cheesecake quickly became very popular with the people who frequented Reubens Broadway restaurant.
A soft unripened cheese originally from Neufchatel-en-Bray, France:
The supporters of this cheese claim that it is the oldest Norman cheese. They argue that a text from the year 1035 A.D. mentions the production of cheeses in the Neufchel-en-Bray countryside. In fact, it was born “officially” in 1543 in the ledgers of the Saint-Aman Abbey (of Rouen) where a cheese was termed Neufchatel. At that period the cheese was probably already matured in the cellars of that country that was covered naturally with penicillium candidum.
It is known that since the Middle Ages the Neufchatel cheese had many shapes, depending on fashion or simply on the moulds the producer owned! The legend explains that the heart shape is due to the young Norman women that wanted to express discreetly their feelings to the English soldiers during the wars in the Middle Age …
During the XIXth century, the production of Neufchatel increased strongly and Napoleon III is said to have received a huge basket of Norman cheeses containing lots of Neufchatel cheeses that he appreciated. At that moment, it was known as one of the best French cheeses and was consumed all over France. Nevertheless, slowly, its production decreased – more specifically, after the Second World War. The producers and the market laws are responsible for that disaffection since the production of cheeses has become less attractive than the sale of the milk to huge dairies.
1872 – American dairymen achieved a technological breakthrough that ushered in the Modern Age of cheesecakes. In attempting to duplicate the popular Neufchatel cheese of France, they hit upon a formula for an un-ripened cheese that was even richer and creamier (they named it cream cheese). William Lawrence of Chester, New York, accidentally developed a method of producing cream cheese while trying to duplicate the French Neufchatel.
1880 – The Kraft foods website states that the Empire Cheese Company of New York began producing PHILADELPHIA BRAND Cream Cheese for a New York distributor called Reynolds. In 1912, James Kraft developed a method to pasteurize cream cheese (Philadelphia cream cheese), and soon other manufacturers of dairy products offered this newer kind of cream cheese.