Cheesecake, one of the world’s most popular and delicious desserts, was invented by, yes, you guessed it, the Greeks.
Most would be familiar with the four most basic types of cheesecakes, including the Italian (ricotta), German (quark) New York (cream cheese) and the French (unbaked) cheesecakes; however, humanity in actual fact owes this divine treat to the Ancient Greeks.
The cheesecake was invented in Ancient Greece.
By the fifth century BC, the ancient Greeks made the earliest known rudimentary cheesecakes or ‘plakous’, meaning ‘flat mass.’
This early version of the cheesecake that we know today consisted of patties of fresh cheese pounded smooth with flour and honey and cooked on an earthenware griddle.
Centuries before New York City was even thought of, cheesecake was served to athletes at the first-ever Olympic Games in Olympia, Greece in 776 B.C as a source of energy.
The oldest surviving Greek cheesecake recipe was recorded by the writer Athenaeus in 230 AD.
The cheesecake recipe itself was pretty simple – pound the cheese until it is smooth, mix it in a brass pan with honey and spring wheat flour, heat the cheesecake “in one mass”, allow to cool, then serve.
In addition to providing fuel for the first-ever Olympians, cheesecake was also served in ancient Greece as a wedding cake.
It was also baked by Greek brides and served to her new husband’s friends as a gesture of hospitality.
This tradition of making wedding cakes continues even today, however the now traditional rendition of a Greek wedding cake commonly consists of honey, sesame seed, and quince, which symbolises the couple’s enduring commitment to each other.
After the Romans conquered Greece in 146 BC Greece, they modified the cheesecake recipe by adding crushed cheese and eggs, and they served it warm. Calling it “libuma,” the Romans served their version of Greek cheesecake on special occasions.
Eventually, the recipe for cheesecake spread to Northern and Eastern Europe. Locals began to experiment, using regional ingredients to create their unique spin on cheesecake.
In late medieval Europe, cheesecake remerged in tart form with a pastry base. The first English cookbook, The Forme of Cury, published around 1390, consisting of a collection of medieval English recipes compiled by the cooks of King Richard II, included two cheese tarts, was described as a “flour-based sweet food.”
The first was referred to as “Sambocade,” containing curd cheese, egg whites, rosewater, and elder flowers. The second was “Tart de Bry” (derived from the Old Norman word which means “pounded” – referring to the method by which the cheese was prepared – made with ruayn (a semi-soft autumn cows’ cheese), egg yolks, and ground ginger.
In the late 19th century in New York, cream cheese was invented, which quickly became the most popular type of cheese used for cheesecakes.
Through the centuries, the ingredients and the processes for making cheesecake have evolved. However, for this delicious dessert called cheesecake, which remains a universal staple on menus everywhere, the world has the Greeks to thank.