An ancient form of cheesecake may have been a popular dish in ancient Greece even prior to Romans' adoption of it with the conquest of Greece. The earliest attested mention of a cheesecake is by the Greek physician Aegimus, who wrote a book on the art of making cheesecakes (πλακουντοποιικόν σύγγραμμα—plakountopoiikon suggramma).Cato the Elder's De Agri Cultura includes recipes for two cakes for religious uses: libum and placenta. Of the two, placenta is most like most modern cheesecakes, having a crust that is separately prepared and baked. It is important to note that though these early forms are called "cheesecakes", they differed greatly in taste and consistency from the cheesecake that we know today.
Modern commercial American cream cheese was developed in 1872, when William Lawrence, from Chester, New York, while looking for a way to recreate the soft, French cheese Neufchâtel, accidentally came up with a way of making an "unripened cheese" that is heavier and creamier; other dairymen came up with similar creations independently. In 1912, James Kraft developed a form of pasteurized cream cheese. Kraft acquired the Philadelphia trademark in 1928, and marketed pasteurized Philadelphia Cream Cheese which is now the most commonly used cheese for cheesecake.
Cheesecake with cream
Almost all modern cheesecakes in the United States and Canada use cream cheese; in Italy, cheesecakes use ricotta; Germany, the Netherlands, and Poland use quark. Cheesecakes are most easily baked in a leak-proof springform pan, often paired with a water bath to more evenly distribute the heat. Because of the high density of most cheesecakes, they continue baking for some time after removal from an oven.
Whether baked cheesecake should be classified as a cake, a custard, a torte, or something else is a matter of debate.
The early Greeks considered it a cake. Some modern authors point to the presence of many eggs, the sole source of leavening, as proof that it is a torte. Still others claim that the separate crust, the soft filling, and the absence of flour prove that it is a custard pie.
Cheesecakes can be broadly categorized into two basic types: baked and unbaked. Each comes in a variety of styles determined by region:
Asian-style cheesecake flavors include matcha (powdered Japanese green tea), lychee, and mango. Asian-style cheesecakes are also lighter in flavor and are sometimes light and spongy in texture. Compared to its counterparts, Asian cheesecake is also considerably less sweet.
German-style cheesecake (Käsekuchen, Quarkkuchen, Matzkuchen; Topfenkuchen in Austria) uses Quark (dairy product) and a freshly made dough, not Graham crackers. The Käsesahnetorte (cheese cream tart) adds cream and is not baked. This recipe is sometimes translated into English using rennet-based cottage cheese, but a true Quarkkuchen uses quark cheese made from sour milk. Quark is used for the famous German or Bavarian baked cheesecake.
Bulgarian-style cheesecake uses cream cheese in a New York–style filling and smetana for a top layer. Ground nuts are often added to the crust mixture.
French-style cheesecakes are very light, feature gelatin as a binding ingredient, and are typically only 3 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) high. This variety gets its light texture and flavor from Neufchâtel cheese.
Swedish-style cheesecake differs greatly from other cheesecakes. A Swedish cheesecake is not layered and is traditionally produced by adding rennet to milk and letting the casein coagulate. It is then baked in an oven and served warm. Since the process of curdling milk is somewhat complicated, alternative recipes intended for home cooking instead use cottage cheese as a base to simulate the texture of the dessert. Swedish-style cheesecake is traditionally served with jam and whipped cream or ice cream. There are two different types of Swedish cheesecake from different regions in Sweden. To avoid confusion with other cheesecakes, Swedish cheesecake is usually called ostkaka.
The Netherlands and Belgium
Dutch/Belgian-style cheesecakes are typically flavored with fruit or melted bittersweet chocolate, are generally made with quark, and are not baked. Belgian cheesecake also includes a speculaas crust (speculaas is a traditional Dutch-Belgian biscuit).
Polishsernik (cheesecake), one of the most popular desserts in Poland, is made primarily using twaróg, a type of fresh cheese.
In Greece the cheese cake has been made since ancient Roman times and is traditionally made of mizithra. There are many regional variants of the mizithropita. This traditional context is often not known and media influence make many Greeks think that it is an American delicacy and call it cheezz cake.
A slice of cheesecake covered with chocolate and served on a stick
New York style cheesecake with strawberries
North America has several different recipes for cheesecake and this usually depends on the region in which the cake was baked, as well as the cultural background of the person baking it. These cheesecakes are typically baked before serving.
New York-style cheesecake relies upon heavy cream or sour cream. The typical New York cheesecake is rich and has a dense, smooth, and creamy consistency. Sour cream makes the cheesecake more resilient to freezing and is the method by which most frozen cheesecakes are made. However, a lavish variant uses sour cream as a topping, applied when the cheesecake is cooked. It is mixed with vanilla extract and sugar and replaced in the oven, essentially making the cheesecake twice-baked.
Pennsylvania Dutch-style cheesecake uses a slightly tangy type of cheese with larger curds and less water content, called pot or farmer's cheese.
Philadelphia-style cheesecake is lighter in texture, yet richer in flavor than New York–style cheesecake.
Farmer cheese cheesecake is the contemporary implementation for the traditional use of baking to preserve fresh cheese and is often baked in a cake form, along with fresh fruit like a tart.
Country-style cheesecake uses buttermilk to produce a firm texture while increasing acidity to extend shelf life.
Chicago style cheesecakes are firm on the outside and have a soft and creamy texture on the inside. They are popular in Chicago.
In the United States, July 30 has been unofficially declared "National Cheesecake Day".
Savory cheesecakes are also made, often for an hors d'oeuvre or served with accompanying salads.
Brazilian-style cheesecake is made with cream cheese and condensed milk, with the addition of gelatin and/or ricotta cheese. Mulberry jam is a common choice for the top layer, as well as strawberry, raspberry, or guava (goiabada).
In Argentina, cheesecake is usually served with strawberry or another berry marmalade on top.
Colombian cheesecake uses honey or panela and cuajada (curd) mixed with wheat or maize flour. Sometimes it is served with strawberry, blackberry, or uchuva jam; rarely it is served with boiled figs. It is a quite popular dessert in the central East Andes region.