Surprising Things You Didn't Know About Cheesecake

When you see the word "cheesecake," what's the first thing that comes to mind? If you're Google (or her little sister, Alexa), the first result that pops up in your data banks is "Cheesecake Factory." The restaurant's website tells us this chain dates back to the 1970s, and while they may well have played a significant role in popularizing the dessert in all its multi-flavored mutations over the past few decades, they were hardly the first to dream up the genius pairing that is cheese + cake.

According to, the very first cheesecakes may possibly date back some 4,000 years to the Greek island of Samos. The oldest surviving recipe was written down by the author Athenaeus in 230 A.D., and it consists of nothing more than wheat flour, honey, and cheese. Culinary Backstreets adds that the type of cheese used was most likely something called myzithra, a product that somewhat resembles ricotta. The Romans stole adopted the cheesecake recipe (along with so many other things) from the Greeks, with the significant addition of eggs, and their recipe spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. Finally, by the 18th century, cooking techniques had evolved to the point where cheesecakes somewhat resembled the ones we know today. It wasn't until the late 19th century, though, that cream cheese became canon due to the fact that this ingredient hadn't even been invented until the 1870s.

New Yorkers perfected the cheesecake

True New York cheesecake is the platonic ideal of the dessert – pure, unadulterated, no flavor swirls or toppings needed. It's dense and rich and there's just no way you could manage one of those super-sized slices you see at some other places where their cheesecakes are so light and fluffy they're more like cheese mousse in a cookie crust.

According to What's Cooking America, credit for the original New York cheesecake goes to German-born deli owner Arnold Reuben, a man who's also one of the alleged inventors of the sandwich that bears his name. While Reuben may have been the one to come up with the original recipe, the most iconic of all New York cheesecakes were the ones served by Lindy's. Food writer Arthur Schwartz, quoted in Saveur, revealed the reason behind Lindy's cheesecake excellence: it seems that restaurant owner Leo Lindemann hired Reuben's pastry chef right out from under his nose. In case you're wondering, Lindy's recipe calls for an egg dough crust (not a graham cracker one) with a filling made from cream cheese, sugar, a little bit of flour, eggs, and cream flavored with vanilla, lemon, and orange zest.

Frank Sinatra's favorite dessert was a lemon cheesecake

Frank Sinatra was a little guy, but he sure loved to eat. He breakfasted on crumb cake (he had a standing order with Entenmann's), hoisted a few glasses of Jack on the rocks at happy hour (and may still be doing so posthumously), and dined upon Italian food from New York's finest restaurants. One of his favorite desserts was a type of cheesecake made with ricotta, a perfectly acceptable alternative to cream cheese (cottage cheese...not so much).

Long Island public radio station WLIW published several recipes from the now-defunct Patsy's, a Manhattan eatery said to be Sinatra's favorite. Among them was their recipe for Patsy's Lemon Ricotta Torte, which, in addition to ricotta and lemon zest, contains only sugar, eggs, and vanilla. There's another recipe floating around the internet for a "Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake alla Sinatra," but this recipe contains lemon juice and mascarpone in addition to the above-named ingredients and is served in a graham cracker crust (Patsy's is crustless). A comment on the Sinatra blog indicates that your results with this latter recipe may be less than satisfactory, as the commenter's cheesecake turned out very wet and tasted neither sweet nor lemony.

The Cheesecake Factory is surprisingly popular with celebrities

If your paycheck had a few more zeros at the end, where would you eat? Would you fly to Hong Kong for dim sum, or perhaps dine on escargot on Paris' Rive Gauche? How about osso bucco in Milan or tagine in Marrakech? Or else you could...just go to the Cheesecake Factory. What with their super-cheesy, wannabe-Vegas-style décor and menus so large that Ellen DeGeneres once called them (via Salon) "the only menus visible from space," Cheesecake Factory is a restaurant seemingly plucked straight from a sitcom. In fact, a generic-looking Cheesecake Factory was a key setting in The Big Bang Theory, much like Central Perk in Friends.

Despite the Cheesecake Factory's falling solidly into the category of Middle Class Fancy as derided by the Twitter account of the same name, the fact is, Ellen ate there, along with wife Portia de Rossi. The Kardashians have dined there, as have Drake, Britney Spears, Steph Curry...the list goes on. One celeb, in particular, had a serious CF habit – First We Feast reports that former NFL quarterback Vince Young regularly dropped $5000 per week dining there, and Sports Illustrated says he even admitted to dropping $15,000 on one single meal. While we don't know if every star partook of the Cheesecake Factory's signature dessert, Fox News reports that Kimye did enjoy the cheesecake, along with tacos, spinach dip, and chicken, at a Cheesecake Factory in Dayton, Ohio back in happier days.

Savory cheesecake is a thing

The Cheesecake Factory has 35 different varieties of cheesecake on their menu, each one of them a sugary sweet dessert (with the exception of the Low-Licious ones that Eat This, Not That! says are sweetened with Splenda). The one thing they don't offer on those mile-long menus, however, is any type of savory cheesecake. Well, they're really missing out here!

According to Taste of Home, a savory cheesecake is kind of like a grown-up version of the cheese ball, an appetizer that's seemingly been a staple of every holiday party since the '70s. (Though they actually date back to the early 19th century. Who knew?). While a savory cheesecake, like a cheese ball, starts off with cream cheese mixed with various flavoring agents such as other cheeses, chopped chiles, or crumbled bacon, it is then turned into a batter with the addition of eggs and may be poured into a crust made of crackers or crushed tortilla chips before being baked. You can even "frost" a savory cheesecake with sour cream or Laughing Cow if you like. In fact, a savory cheesecake (sans crust) might make the perfect birthday cake for anyone on a strict low-carb diet!