Cheesecake is a dessert with a really intriguing history! Not only is it a tempting sweet treat with plenty of flavors and which arrives in plenty of shapes and styles, there’s perhaps a little more to it than you might think. Cheesecake is likely to be a guilty pleasure for many people thanks to the calorie content and the sugars involved.
However, we all deserve a treat every now and again! The fact is, there are many different takes on cheesecake all over the world. The Americans will stake a claim on a very specific twist on the dessert, while the main treat as we know it is likely to have origins which lie with the ancient Greeks. What’s more – what exactly is a cheesecake – is it a tart, a pie, or a torte? What’s your opinion?
Therefore, why not dig into our extra-long fact file on cheesecake – and learn a little bit about the history of the dessert before you sample another slice?
1. No, it’s not a cake – in the US, anyway.
What many people call cheesecake is based on the American-style model. This isn’t actually a cake at all! It’s a custard pie of sorts, with a crust all around. In fact, it’s made by pouring ingredients into a set crust before allowing to bake.
2. Cheesecake can be complex to make.
Cheesecake can be made from various ingredients and toppings. However, it is most likely that you will need eggs and sugar, and – of course – some form of cheese! The type of cheese used in cheesecake can vary, too. However, more often than not, people will used soft spreads and cheeses, such as cream cheese from a packet.
3. Bake or chill? Up to you.
You can bake cheesecake if you wish – this tends to be the American-style option. However, it’s perfectly possible to make cheesecake without baking, and to leave to set in the fridge.
4. Was cheesecake a tasty accident?
It’s thought that the American-style cheesecake first emerged at some point during the 1870s. If you believe the stories, it’s a dessert that was actually made by accident! This style of cheesecake is thought to be attributed to William Lawrence, though it’s Arnold Reuben who famously popularised the New York cheesecake by the early 20th Century.
5. More accidents emerged!
This accident also famously led to the creation of American cream cheese, which came about as a result of an attempt to mimic the French standard. In fact, this led to the formation of the Philadelphia brand of cream cheese, one of the most recognisable brands on the planet for the foodstuff.
You’ll likely recognise the name of Arnold Reuben for a different reason – he was perhaps more famous for his sandwich creations.
6. Cheesecake has multiple origins.
There’s also thought to be a recipe for cheesecake that emanates from the 14th century in England. It’s interesting to see so many different civilisations come up with separate recipes that point towards similar treats!
Studies show that cheesecake actually has a longer history than many people imagine. The earliest dishes resembling this dessert are said to have started emerging in ancient Greece, with roots in the first Olympic Games, too. We don’t really anticipate modern cheesecake being served to athletes, though we can imagine it’d be a tempting prize!
7. Cheesecake quickly became a home dessert.
Cheesecake is a common dessert that you’ll find served in restaurants and cafés. However, the market has grown over the past few decades for people to buy cheesecake and related puddings to enjoy from their home fridges and freezers. What’s more, it’s perfectly possible for you to make and set your own cheesecake at home, or to bake one!
8. It can be expensive!
Cheesecake will, of course, vary in price from establishment to establishment. However, one of the most expensive cheesecakes in the world can be found at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. You’ll expect to pay around $300 for a chocolate mocha cheesecake designed to look like Christmas gifts. The design alone is worth the price tag to some people – is it really worth wasting by eating?
9. No, seriously.
It’s thought that the most expensive cheesecake of all time was available at Manhattan’s Rafele Ristorante. Their freshly-made dessert took up to five days to perfect, and it cost an eye-watering $5,000! There must be some people out there willing to invest this level of cash in such a treat! Some of the hallmarks of this pricey dessert included white truffles and buffalo ricotta.
10. There’s some… interesting variations.
Many people have created unique twists on cheesecake, with some culinary creators venturing into savoury styles. For example, you can find garlic-flavored cheesecake in some quarters – if you’re really interested, you can even find the recipe online.
11. It’s a big US staple.
Not only that, but Americans will also observe National Cheesecake Day on the 31st July each year! While it’s easy to assume it’s yet another token date on the calendar, plenty of restaurants and stores get in on the event by cutting the costs of cheesecake they serve.
12. There are multiple cheesecake days!
However, it’s not the only date on the calendar dedicated to cheesecake. If you miss the first one, be sure to wait for May the next year, when you can tuck into a treat on Blueberry Cheesecake Day on the 26th. Before this, even, there’s a White Chocolate Cheesecake Day in March, traditionally observed on the 6th.
13. Check the box!
Cheesecakes actually have some good nutritional value to them. Despite being a very rich dessert, they have stacks of protein and vitamin A. That, of course, is largely thanks to the cheese content. The clue is in the name, you see!
14. Now THAT’s a cheesecake.
The biggest cheesecake ever made weighed in at 4,240kg, and was almost a meter tall. With a diameter of nearly 3m, Russia’s Cheeseberry Company helped to set a tasty new record back in 2017. Will this feat ever be beaten? We’ll have to wait and see!
15. Recipes vary from region to region.
There are plenty of different variations on cheesecake across America. For example, venture beyond New York to Chicago, and you’ll find that chefs and bakers there use sour cream in their recipes!
Look elsewhere in the world – such as Germany, for example – and you’ll find that people use cottage cheese! It’s safe to say that everyone has their own twist on the dessert, though the core ingredients and end result remain the same.
16. Even ice cream moguls get in on it!
There have been innovations in cheesecake-flavored items popping up all over the world. However, one of the most memorable creations came from the minds of the Austrian ice cream giant Haagen-Dazs. The company knew all too well that people hate licking stamps – so they helped to create strawberry-cheesecake flavored postage labels!17. There’s a different meaning to this name nowadays!
The Romans used to call their traditional cheesecake ‘placenta’. It was also called ‘libum’ by some and was even used as a tasty offering to gods and deities.
18. It’s a layered treat!
Cheesecake is popular for its many layers – though generally, you’ll only likely pack in one or two. The more layers, the more complex the dessert – only tackle multiple layers if you feel you are really up to the challenge!
19. There’s ancient cheese in its making!
The cheese which inspired the accidental creation of American-style cheesecake is thought to be one of the oldest cheeses of its kind dating back to Norman times. It’s thought that the French cream cheese standard may actually date back as far as the 11th century, if not before. This cheese, it seems, became known as Neufchatel, named after the area in which it was first made.
20. There are many favorite flavors!
What’s your favourite flavor of cheesecake? While you might think that the most popular flavor in the US is blueberry or plain old strawberry, it’s actually Red Velvet, if you believe statistics from the Cheesecake Factory. Frankly, we doubt there are many other specialist sources out there on this!
However, you can of course sample cheesecake in many different flavors. Coffee, pumpkin, lemon, lime, and of course plain vanilla are some of the most popular flavors around. It’s also commonly served with tart fruit.
21. It was a TV staple.
Cheesecake was a common sight on the hugely popular TV sitcom ‘The Golden Girls’. So much so, it’s thought that over a hundred desserts were consumed by the cast across seven years on the air.
22. Enjoy it sparingly!
Cheesecake is a decadent treat which is unlikely to be of too much benefit to your health. A typical slice reportedly contains over 250 calories, and it’s also likely to be high on the fat content. That’s without us getting started on the sugar.
Don’t feel too bad about eating cheesecake. It’s obvious that a diet rich in the dessert is going to be bad for you, but as with other treats, enjoy it sparingly.
23. But… what IS a cheesecake, anyway?
People tend to be split on what a cheesecake actually is. As mentioned, it’s not actually a cake – so what is it? Some argue that it is a pie due to its crust, while others claim that it is a type of tart. Is there any one true answer? Let’s avoid turning this into something similar to the infamous Jaffa Cake debate!
24. The name isn’t that old.
The name cheesecake, in fact, has only been around since the 1400s. As mentioned, it’s had several different names over the centuries, but the sweet end result has largely remained the same!
25. Ever tried the whole menu?
The Cheesecake Factory reportedly sells up to around 250 different items, and it’ll cost you near-on $400 to buy each type of cake available. That’s still less than the most expensive cakes we listed earlier on – but even so!
26. What’s the upper crust?
The crust used for a cheesecake can vary a lot, too. In some cases, people will use a cookie crumb base, while others will choose pastry. This can vary a lot in the UK as well as worldwide. You may find that some fridge-based cheesecakes in the UK have digestive biscuit-style bases, for example.
27. Toppings can be wild!
Toppings will also vary as well as the flavorings we list above. For example, it’s not completely unheard of for people to top their cheesecake creations with nuts and syrups. Finding that perfect blend might just be a case of experimenting with your favourite flavors and textures. See how you get on when making your own!
28. A cake to toast the happy couple?
Cheesecake was actually used as a popular wedding and celebration cake back in ancient Greece. Some couples may still wish to use these treats as wedding dessert staples to this very day. It’s an interesting twist on the multi-tiered favourite, at least!
29. It mixes well with sweet treats.
Fruit and cheesecakes seem to go together pretty well! While you’ll commonly find the dessert served with berries and sticky fruits, you’ll also find that some people enjoy it with figs and mangos. Certainly, if there’s a fruit you haven’t yet tried it with, why not try being a little adventurous?
30. NYC is a cheesecake capital.
New York is especially proud of its take on the cheesecake, to the extent where some claim that the only true cheesecake comes from the area! As we’ve seen, cheesecake can spring from a variety of different places!
31. Some ingredients haven’t stood the test of time.
Wheat and flour don’t tend to be present in all modern cheesecake recipes, however, it was a staple of the original Greek standard. It’s thought that the later American takes on the dessert helped to refine this side of things, taking away its wheat taste and creating an altogether different kind of dessert.
32. It’s amazingly versatile.
Cheesecake is perhaps one of the most diverse desserts on the planet. Few other sweet treats have quite so many different variations and interpretations across the globe. Therefore, what you may assume to be the definitive cheesecake might not be the same for someone else on the other side of the planet.
As you can see, the history and business surrounding cheesecake is very deep and very important indeed! With the Cheesecake Factory continuing to sell hundreds of different items across 200 different store locations, it’s likely that US fans at least will want to keep eating this very particular pie. Do you have a favourite flavor or recipe? Where do you stand on the pie vs tart debate?
There’s one thing we can all agree on – that cheesecake is very rich, very tasty, and is likely to be enjoyed all over the world.
FAQs about Cheesecake
What are the two types of cheesecake?
On the whole, you can expect cheesecake to either come baked, or non-baked - the choice is yours!
Where is cheesecake most popular?
Cheesecake is enjoyed all over the world, however, you’ll normally find it has most fans in New York - where they have their own twist on the dessert!
Can you eat raw cheesecake?
It’s not a good idea if there are raw eggs in the mix - make sure you either bake or set your cheesecake as standard depending on the recipe!
Do you know any fun facts about cheesecake? Share them in the comments below!