The earliest known recorded recipe (around 160 BC) was for a type of cake to be consumed during religious celebrations in Greece, which contained goat cheese and in no way resembles our modern day version. Fast forward to 1390 when an English cookbook caused an early chef named Heston Blumenthal insist that cheesecake is an English invention, which it very well could be; but whichever country takes credit, no one like Americans has elevated it to its current art form. When cream cheese was first developed in 1872, a New Yorker was looking for a way to recreate the soft, delicious cheese called Neufchâtel which he had eaten in England and France, and he came up with a method of making an “unripened cheese” that was heavier and creamier.Along with other dairymen, William Chester began mass-producing it under the name Philadelphia Cream Cheese and it marked the beginning of present day versions.
Basically, cheesecake comes in two different types: baked and unbaked, and both have their merits:
++New York-style cheesecake relies upon heavy or sour cream, is rich and has a dense, smooth consistency most likely to be featured at Jewish delicatessens and high-end restaurants;
++Chicago-style is a baked version which is firm on the outside with a softer texture on the inside; the crust used is most commonly made from shortbread or graham crackers, crushed and mixed with sugar and butter; frozen cheesecakes tend to be called Chicago-style (can you say Sara Lee?);
The foodie city of Chicago actually is home to the country’s two largest cheesecake makers, Sara Lee and Eli’s:
++Sara Lee cream cheese cake put this dessert on the map with their Original Cream Cheesecake. In 1949 a bakery owner named Charles Lubin pioneered the frozen-foods business when he invented a top-quality cream-cheese cake for sale in supermarkets and restaurants. He named the cheesecake after his daughter, Sara Lee. Lubin’s product was such a success that only two years later, in 1951, he opened the Kitchens of Sara Lee and began to add other items to his bakery line. In the early 1950s the aluminum foil pan was introduced which allowed his products to be baked, quickly frozen, and sold in the same container;
++Eli’s Cheesecake (1980) is also based in Chicago. Eli’s Original Plain Cheesecake, which has been called “Chicago’s most famous dessert” is made of cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a butter shortbread cookie crust; originally served exclusively at Ei’s restaurant on the North Side; its popularity eventually resulted in Eli Shulman to begin producing and selling the cake nationally and it continues to gain more market share annually. Eli’s has made cheesecakes for four American presidential inaugurations. In both 1993 and 1997, it made a 2,000 pounder for Bill Clinton’s inauguration ceremonies as well as numerous celebrities’ birthdays and special events, and is a popular dessert of Oprah (no surprise there); making its debut at the first Taste of Chicago in 1980, it has held a starring role at every one since.
Cheesecake Factory restaurants – opened in the LA area (1978) and now boasting over 200 locations nationwide; not known for their low calorie cuisine, they offer 35 different flavors of cheesecake, one more decadent than the other and are a living testimonial to the popularity of this dessert.
Hundreds of countries have their own unique versions with varying ingredients and presentations, but America remains the king of the mountain and shows no signs of stopping its love affair. If eaten in moderation, they can be enjoyed all year; if eaten in great quantities, well, you may just keep your cardiologist in the latest model Mercedes. But grab a fork, a good cup of coffee and dig in. You only live once.