That delightful treat, the cheesecake, can be found today at nearly every restaurant. There are a thousand different recipes for cheesecake, and the only consistent ingredient you’ll find in any of them (other than sugar!) is cheese. Typically, cream cheese, Neufchatel, cottage cheese, and ricotta are used.
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, naturally the Romans began making cheesecake as well. 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 casing. They were also called “libum” by the Romans, and were often used as an offering at their temples to their gods.
The first written recipe for cheesecake comes from Marcus Porcius Cato, a Roman politician. 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 breadwheat 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.”
Not long after this, the first Olympic Athletes were offered small cheesecakes at the games. Later, Athenaeus, a Greek writer, wrote a down a sweeter version of cheesecake 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.”
By 1000 AD, cheesecake had been introduced to Europe by conquering Roman armies. In 1929, Arnold Reuben, owner of the Turf Restaurant in New York City, discovered how delicious a cheesecake could be when using cream cheese instead of cottage cheese. He began serving it in his restaurant, launching the still-popular New York-style cheesecake.
Today, this yummy dessert continues to be wildly popular – among both gods and men!