Ancient Greece was a pretty neat place. It was where the Parthenon was created, where public baths were still socially accepted, and where the world’s favorite dessert was first concocted. Cheesecake’s story starts on the isle of Samos between the 7th and 8th centuries BCE. It was there that people began pounding cheese into a thick paste, sweetening it with honey, and setting it into a crust of wheat. Ah, the first cheesecake. It was baked, cooled, and then consumed.
It’s said that during the 1st Olympic Games, in 776 BCE, cheesecakes were passed out to the sportsmen to supply them with the strength they needed to compete the various tasks at hand. From there, well, cheesecake sort of took off because it was just that good – even back in the day.
After the Romans occupied Greece, the recipe really caught on. As their empire grew, enveloping the majority of modern-day Europe, Romans spread the recipe for cheesecake. (You know that old saying, “when ruled by Rome…”) Anyway, around 160 BCE, the first cheesecake recipe was jotted down by Marcus Porcius Cato in his book De Agri Cultura. The book is often referred to as a farmer’s manual, as it depicts rural life and the recipes that require farm products. Cheese, being produced on a farm and the backbone of all that is good, was thus a ready ingredient for these farmers, making cheesecake easy to produce and popular in the countryside.
In 1545, another book was made: the first ever printed cookbook. In it was the recipe for a flour-based cheesecake. This recipe spawned all other sorts of cheesecake concoctions. People began to make it with the ingredients that were native to where they lived. As sugar began to reduce in price and become more readily available, it was eventually used to sweeten the cake instead of honey. But it wasn’t until the 18th century that cheesecake began to look like ours after Europeans began using eggs instead of yeast to make cheesecake rise.
By then, people had already started making the transatlantic trip to the Americas. And in 1872, something major happened. In Chester, New York, William Lawrence created American cream cheese. Sure, it’d been around a few decades prior in France, but no one in America had ever heard of it. William Lawrence was actually attempting to make a French cheese called Neufchatel, (which tastes like mushrooms) and failed miserably. Lucky for us, his failure created Philadelphia Cream Cheese, which he began selling in foil. By 1912, James Kraft developed a method to pasteurize the cheese, and by the 1920s, it became very popular, especially in New York.
Restaurants in the Big Apple began putting their own spin on cheesecakes using said cream cheese and as thousands of tourists flocked to the city, it became a national sensation. New York style cheesecake became huge. Trying to top New York, other cities like Philadelphia and Chicago created their own styles, and soon other places did too.
So while the ancient Greeks are commended for influencing today’s politics, mathematics, and philosophies, they should also be recognized as the culture that created a timeless dessert. For thousands of years, cheesecake has been a staple around the world. Some desserts are so delicious that they have the ability to appeal to everyone – even the healthiest of Olympians – forever. And cheesecake is certainly just that kind of dessert.
About the Author:
"Katie Straw" is the writer at Cheesecake.com, an epic cheesecake experience, and currently resides in Manchester, New Hampshire.