Italian Ricotta Cheesecake

Traditional Recipe

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.

Ancient Roman-style cheesecake uses honey and a ricotta-like cheese along with flour and is traditionally shaped into loaves. Some recipes call for bay leaves, which may have been used as a preservative. Italian-style cheesecake uses ricotta or mascarpone cheese, sugar, vanilla extract, and sometimes barley flakes.

The production of ricotta in the Italian peninsula is old, dating back to the Bronze Age. In the second millennium BC ceramic vessels called milk boilers started to appear frequently and were apparently unique to the peninsula. These were designed to boil milk at high temperatures and prevent the milk from boiling over. The fresh acid-coagulated cheeses produced with these boilers were probably made with whole milk. However, the production of rennet-coagulated cheese overtook the production of fresh whole milk cheeses during the first millennium BC. Bronze cheese graters found in the graves of the Etruscan elite prove that hard grating cheeses were popular with the aristocracy. Cheese graters were also commonly used in ancient Roman kitchens. Unlike the fresh acid-coagulated cheese, aged rennet-coagulated cheese could be preserved for much longer.

The increased production of rennet-coagulated cheese led to a large supply of sweet whey as a by-product. Cheesemakers then started using a new recipe which used a mixture of whey and milk to make the traditional ricotta as it is known today. The ancient Romans made ricotta but it was most likely consumed by the shepherds who made it. Even so, evidence from paintings and literature indicates that ricotta was known and likely eaten by Roman aristocrats as well.

Ceramic milk boilers were still used by Apennine shepherds to make ricotta in the 19th century AD. Today metal milk boilers are used, but production methods have changed little since ancient times.

From Wikipedia

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Italian Ricotta Cheesecake

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