It’s easy to assume cheesecake originated in France, where the arts of cheese-making and pastry-baking have been perfected. Or in New York, the state with a famous cheesecake style named after it. But the predecessor to our modern cheesecake, according to the historians and anthropologists who have traced its origin, can be found in ancient Greece. Here, by the Mediterranean Sea, the creamy, cheesy confection was a popular wedding dessert and might even have been served to athletes during the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C.
While the dessert was most likely around centuries earlier, the first known written record of the Greek cheesecake recipe is attributed to Greek writer Athenaeus around 230 A.D. The rudimentary cheesecake was made with fresh cheese, pounded until smooth, mixed with flour and honey and then baked. Romans are said to have introduced the Grecian cheesecake across Europe, and immigrants brought the beloved dessert to America — the dish taking on new variations and baking methods with each culture it traversed.
The Forme of Cury, the first known English cookbook written during the 14th century, added eggs to the cheesecake recipe and flavored the dessert with rosewater and dried elderflowers. The ultra dense New York-style cheesecake, credited to restaurateur Arnold Reuben in the 1920s, goes heavy on the cream cheese. The trendy, burnt-topped Basque-style cheesecake (or tarta de queso), created in 1990 by chef Santiago Rivera of San Sebastian in Spain’s Basque Country, is made with a handful of simple ingredients and baked at a high temperature for a caramelized exterior and gooey center.
Käsekuchen (German cheesecake) relies on soft quark cheese, Japanese cheesecake is made fluffy and soufflé-like with the incorporation of whisked egg whites, and Sernik (Polish cheesecake) is made with twaróg cheese and potato flour. Wherever you travel in the world, you’re sure to find a unique, regional take on cheesecake.
For the first stop on your cheesecake world tour, look no further than Sonoma County, where farm cows graze on vast pastures and skilled bakers use local ingredients to craft luscious desserts. From New York to Basque-style and every flavor you can dream up, here is where you can find glorious cheesecakes all around the county to enjoy on National Cheesecake Day, July 30. Or any day of the year.
J.M. Rosen’s Cheesecakes — New York Cheesecake: You can’t go wrong with any of Jan’s Rosen’s famous cheesecakes — the Blueberry, Neapolitan, Chocolate Fantasy and Snickers Bar cheesecakes all get rave reviews. But the star of the show is the original rich and creamy New York-style cheesecake in a buttery shortbread crust — the one that made Frank Sinatra a lifelong customer. Order online (free shipping on local deliveries) or find Rosen’s cheesecakes at a number of restaurants and markets across California, including her restaurant 256 North in Petaluma. 74 E. Washington St., Petaluma, 707-773-4655, jmrosencheesecakes.com
Three French Hens Bakery — Brûlée Churro Cheesecake: Tangy cream cheese filling topped with a crunchy cinnamon and sugar brûlée in a buttery crust. All orders require 24-hour notice. Order for delivery or pick-up in Walnut Park, 201 Fourth St., Petaluma. Pick-up times are at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Petaluma, 3frenchhenspetaluma.com
Animo — Burnt Cheesecake: Light, creamy and rich Basque-style cheesecake with a side of whipped cream and either poached Asian pears or strawberries. 18976 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma, instagram.com/animo_restaurant
Wit & Wisdom — Basque-Style Cheesecake: Soft and airy Basque-style cheesecake with burnt top and accompanied with sweet poached strawberries and a crunchy honey-sesame crisp. 1325 Broadway, Sonoma, 707-931-3405, witandwisdomsonoma.com
Cafe La Haye — Yuzu Citrus Cheesecake: Smooth, zesty cheesecake flavored with Japanese yuzu. 140 E. Napa St., Sonoma, 707-935-5994, cafelahaye.com
Basque Boulangerie Cafe — Cheesecake: Traditional rich cheesecake with a streusel crust. Available in plain, white chocolate, raspberry or seasonal pumpkin. 460 First St. East, Sonoma, 707-935-7687, basqueboulangerie.com
The Mill — Burnt Basque Cheesecake: Creamy, tangy Basque-style cheesecake with fresh berries. 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-721-1818, themillatglenellen.com
College Confectionista Cheesecakes — SoCo Style Cheesecake: Anamaría Morales’ famed “Sonoma County-style” cheesecake with traditional cream cheese filling in a butter graham cracker crust and topped with or without homemade whip cream. Can be made gluten-free with a nut-based crust. Check website for pick-up times and location. 439 N. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale, 707-495-5324, collegeconfectionista.com
Downtown Bakery & Creamery — Cheesecake: Large and baby cheesecakes with a classic rich and dense filling in a buttery graham cracker crust. 308 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-431-2719, facebook.com/Downtownbakery
Costeaux French Bakery & Cafe — Fruit Cheesecake: Creamy cheesecake in a graham cracker crust topped with seasonal fruit. 417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-1913, costeaux.com
BurtoNZ Bakery — Fruit Cheesecake Bars: Raspberry, blackberry and blueberry swirl cheesecake bars with a buttery crust. 9076 Brooks Road South, Windsor, 707-687-5455, burtonzbakery.com
Criminal Baking Company — Lemon Chevre Cheesecake: Creamy, tangy, rich and lemony classic cheesecake. Optional add-ons include fresh assorted berries, a caramel drizzle or jasmine tea-infused lemon curd. 808 Donahue St., Santa Rosa, 707-888-3546, criminalbaking.com
John Ash & Co. — Banoffee Cheesecake: Light, creamy cheesecake with a butterscotch swirl, brûléed bananas and a buttery speculoos crumble. 4330 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, 707-527-7687, vintnersresort.com
Underwood Bar & Bistro — Mascarpone Cheesecake: Creamy cheesecake made with soft mascarpone and topped with raspberries. 9113 Graton Road, Graton, 707-823-7023, underwoodgraton.com
Patisserie Angelica — Meyer Lemon Raspberry Cheesecake: A decadent, seasonal cheesecake flavored with Meyer lemon and a raspberry swirl. 6821 Laguna Park Way, Sebastopol, 707-827-7998, patisserieangelica.com
Lightwave Coffee and Kitchen — Rotating Cheesecakes: Varying creamy cheesecakes are available each weekend. Decadent and seasonal flavors include fig, cherry, blueberry, strawberry, baklava, lemon curd, pecan caramel and chocolate hazelnut. 9725 Main St., Monte Rio, 707-865-5169, lightwavecafe.square.site
Nightingale Breads — Mini Cheesecakes: Creamy, tangy New York-style mini cheesecakes with flavors changing weekly. Cheesecake flavors include lemon curd, lime curd, passionfruit, orange cream, cranberry curd, blood orange, cappuccino, eggnog, apple pie, toasted coconut and pineapple. 6665 Front St., Forestville, 707-887-8887, nightingalebreads.com
Terrapin Creek Cafe — Crème Fraîche Cheesecake: Light, fluffy cheesecake made with crème fraîche, with raspberry and vanilla sauces. 1580 Eastshore Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-2700, terrapincreekcafe.com
Elegant Cheese Cakes — Triple Chocolate Cheesecake: Bittersweet, milk and white chocolate gourmet cheesecake in a butter cookie macadamia nut crust. Order your custom cake online for shipping and delivery. Sonoma, 650-515-8340, elegantcheesecakes.com