Have you ever wondered if there is real cheese in cheesecake? If you are scratching your head at how this delectable dessert got its name, you are definitely not alone. You aren’t the first person to ponder this common baking question and I’m sure you won’t be the last.
It’s not exactly a stupid question either. There certainly isn’t a block of cheddar in a cheesecake, so how on earth did someone come up with the name?
Believe it or not, there is cheese in cheesecake. Thankfully, the humble cheesecake has come a long way in the last few thousand years and has transformed into the sweet, irresistible dessert we know and love today.
Is there cheese in cheesecake?
Yes, there is real cheese in cheese. The standard recipe for cheesecake is; soft cheese, eggs, sugar, and vanilla essence. However, different types of soft cheese are used in various cheesecake recipes and allow for different tasting and textured cheesecakes.
Let’s discuss the types of cheese you are likely to find in the typical cheesecake.
First up, let us discuss the most common cheese used in the cheesecake, cream cheese.
Cream cheese is a fresh cheese that is soft in texture and is made from cow’s milk and cream. You can easily make this cheese at home; basically, an acid is added to milk and cream, which causes the liquid to split into curds and whey. These curds are then separated and whipped up with some stabilizers, and there you have it, cream cheese.
Cream cheese does not age, and so it’s considered a “fresh” cheese. With its mild tangy flavor, it is a very versatile cheese, and it can be spread on a bagel or whipped up into a cheesecake. Arnold Rueben, is credited with introducing cream cheese into the cheesecake for the first time.
Ricotta is an Italian-style cheese made from the whey of milk, which could be whey from sheep, cow, goat, or water buffalo. Traditionally whatever whey was leftover from the production of these cheeses was reheat and repurposed into ricotta.
Ricotta translated to English means “recooked”, as the leftover whey is reheated and the tiny bits of curd left over is what is known as ricotta. Nowadays, ricotta is made from whole milk and not just from the whey leftovers from cheese production.
Ricotta again has a very mild flavor, more so than its cousin cream cheese, and it is neither sweet nor savory. Cheesecakes made with ricotta tend to be less rich, less dense, and slightly granular.
Mascarpone, another delicious produce made by the Italians which is also known as Italian cream cheese, go figure!
Mascarpone is very similar to American cream cheese and made in the exact same way- it just has a higher fat content due to the use of full-fat heavy cream. So the full-fat heavy cream is heated, the curds and whey are separated, and the curds are then whipped with the addition of citric or tartar acid to help it set.
Mascarpone has a much more smooth, velvety texture than cream cheese and has a slightly sweet, nutty flavor.
Quark or quarg is the German version of cream cheese. Different versions of quark are made by various preparations which differ from region to region. Most commonly, it is made from warming milk (some areas use sour milk) until the milk has curdled.
They use skimmed milk as the main ingredient, and cream is often added later to adjust the fat content.
In Germany, the mixture is continually stirred when the milk is heated, so the curds do not form lumps, resulting in a thick creamy texture. Quark is often compared to yogurt, as it has the same texture and a similar taste.
Why is cheesecake called cheesecake?
So now you know the most common types of cheese in cheesecake, all of which are classed as soft cheeses. However, this wasn’t always the case. In the past, cheesecake used to look, and taste, every different.
Long before we were blessed with Philadelphia cream cheese, the early forms of cheesecake were created by the Romans, in 776 BC. The Greeks also created their own version of the cheesecake that they served to the athletes at the Olympic games to give them that extra energy boost.
If I knew someone was going to be feeding me cheesecake, I would definitely do more sports!
The Greeks called these rudimentary cheesecakes “plakouss”, although these were fresh cheese patties that were ground to form a savory cake, a stretch far away from the sweet treats we all know and love today. They pounded fresh cheese patties to form a paste, and this was then mixed with flour and honey, then shaped into rounds and baked on a heated stone.
Sure, this is a far cry from the cheesecakes we know today, but this is why the cheesecake is called a cheesecake. It’s no wonder the Greeks are gods; they created cheesecake people!
Fast forward to 1872, a man named William Lawrence created the first brand of cream cheese, which is now sold under the name Philadelphia Cream cheese.
To this day, it is possibly the most famous brand of cream cheese, and one that is popular to use in most cheesecakes. Cream cheese is a fresh cheese and does not mature naturally, and you are meant to consume it fresh.
This is possibly why the name cheesecake can be so confusing to most,as the cheese is not quite the cheese placed on the mousetrap, as seen in the cartoons like Tom and Jerry! So, does cheesecake have cheese? Yes, absolutely!
And apparently, it was only in 1929 that the first cream cheese cheesecake was created. An Arnold Reuben has been credited for creating the New York-style cheesecake using cream cheese; cottage cheese was used up until then.
Arnolds new and improved version of the cheesecake was an instant hit, and we can’t thank him enough.
I think it is also important I mention the use of rennet. Rennet is an enzyme used in making cheese that converts the milk sugar lactose into lactic acid, and it is this acid that causes the milk to separate into curds and whey. And I don’t want to go into too much detail, but let’s just say it is not vegetarian and best any veggies reading this google what rennet is and which cheese contain it. But there are many kinds of cheese that are now being made using a vegetarian enzyme instead, but there is no harm in being more informed.
I digress. Let’s get back to the actual topic at hand, the cheesecake. So a cheesecake’s origin can be classified according to the type of cheese used. A cheesecake that contains ricotta would be Italian, classic cream cheese would suggest American, and the use of quark would imply the cheesecake is of German origin.
Let’s not forget the crust of the cheesecake either. I think a crust can make or break a cheesecake, and some may even say it’s the best part. The crust of a cheesecake can be made of crushed Graham crackers, cookies, or a shortcrust pastry. But maybe this is a discussion for another day. Just like there are different crust options, there are different methods of preparing a cheesecake, either baked or not.
The baked version is by far superior, in my opinion.
In my research of cheesecakes, I came across this saying, and I couldn’t agree more. I quote, Hedy Lamarr, “because you don’t live near a bakery doesn’t mean you have to go without cheesecake.”