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The History of Cheesecake

Updated: Jan 27

How did this dessert become a staple part of the British menu?


Few desserts are as iconic and beloved as the baked cheesecake. Its creamy texture, tangy flavour, and rich history have made it a staple on dessert menus around the world. Join us on a mouth-watering journey as we delve into the fascinating origins and evolution of this classic dessert.


Ancient Origins


The history of cheesecake can be traced back to ancient Greece, where it was considered a sacred dish served during Olympic games. The Greeks would mix cheese, honey, and wheat to create a cake-like dessert that was often served as an offering to the gods. They believed that cheesecake possessed magical properties, providing athletes with strength and stamina.


As the Roman Empire expanded, so did the popularity of cheesecake, and it quickly became a favourite among the upper classes. The Romans enhanced the recipe by adding crushed cheese, eggs, and honey, creating a richer and more indulgent version. They even named a special mould after it, known as a "formaceum," which was used to shape and set the cheesecake.


Middle Ages


During the Middle Ages, cheesecake continued to evolve as it spread throughout Europe. Recipes varied from region to region, but the basic ingredients remained the same: cheese, eggs, and sugar. In England, cheesecake was often made with curd cheese and flavoured with rosewater, giving it a delicate aroma. The Germans preferred to use quark cheese, a fresh and creamy cheese, and added fruit or nuts for extra flavour and texture.


Cheesecake was a popular dish among the European nobility during this time, often served at banquets and grand feasts. Bakers began experimenting with different crusts, using ingredients such as crushed almonds or breadcrumbs to provide a sturdy base for the rich filling. These variations helped solidify the popularity of cheesecake as a decadent and indulgent dessert.


New World


When European settlers arrived in America, they brought with them their love for cheesecake. The dessert quickly became a favourite, with New York-style cheesecake emerging as one of the most popular varieties. New York-style cheesecake is characterized by its dense, creamy texture and light vanilla flavour.


In the late 19th century, cream cheese was invented by American dairyman William Lawrence, revolutionising the world of cheesecake. This new cheese had a higher fat content and a milder flavour, which made it perfect for creating velvety and smooth cheesecakes. The addition of cream cheese became the defining ingredient of American cheesecake recipes.


Modern Variations


Today, there are countless variations of cheesecake, from traditional New York-style to fruity, chocolate, and even savoury flavours. Cheesecake has also become a popular dessert around the world, with unique variations popping up in different cultures.


In Japan, for example, cheesecake is often lighter and fluffier than its American counterpart. Japanese cheesecakes are made using a technique called "soufflé cheesecake," which incorporates whipped egg whites to create a delicate and airy texture. Matcha (green tea) cheesecake has also gained popularity in Japan, adding a distinct and vibrant flavour to the classic dessert.


Savoury cheesecakes have also made their mark in the culinary world. These unconventional creations typically substitute cheese for ingredients like goat cheese or feta and incorporate savoury elements such as herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, or caramelised onions. Savoury cheesecakes are a delightful option for those seeking a unique twist on the traditional sweet treat.


Baked cheesecakes are considered a more elegant dessert. Harder to bake and perfect, they offer a dense, fluffy, moist and smooth texture, together with a rich and full flavour. Unbaked cheesecakes tend to have thinner flavours and more of a mousse-like texture.


Conclusion


The history of cheesecake is a rich and flavoursome one, spanning centuries and cultures. Whether you prefer your cheesecake plain and simple or loaded with toppings and flavours, there is no denying the enduring appeal of this classic dessert. From its humble beginnings in ancient Greece to its modern-day interpretations, the cheesecake has remained a timeless indulgence that continues to captivate taste buds around the world. So, next time you take a bite of a velvety slice, remember the rich history behind this beloved treat.


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