Say Cheesecake!

Correspondent Russ Mitchell takes a taste tour of some of America's best known cheesecake bakeries and finds out not all cheesecake is created equal:


You can order just about anything to eat at Junior's restaurant in Brooklyn, but really, everyone's there for one thing.

"When people say cheesecake in New York, people say 'Junior's," says Alan Rosen, whose grandfather started the place 60 years ago, serving cheesecake that's become world famous.

Cheesecake has always been part of the formula at Junior's.

Visit Our Recipe Index for Junior's Cheesecake Recipes!

"My grandfather, when we first opened, said, 'If we're gonna be a great restaurant in New York, we have to have great cheesecake.'"

Junior's now churns out thousands of cheesecakes a day, but this fan favorite got its start far from "cheesecake corner" in Brooklyn.

"We have the first records of cheesecake going back 2,200 years to Greece," says Andy Smith.

Smith, a food historian, says that the first cheesecake recipe appeared in a book by the Roman politician, Cato.

"He's certainly thought of as the father," Smith says. "The real father of cheesecake history."

The simple crust filled with sheep's milk or cottage cheese was brought to this country by European colonists.

Today's cheesecake took shape when a New York farmer who wanted to sell products in Philadelphia invented cream cheese. Its popularity soared after Kraft foods pasteurized it.

"In the 1920s, restaurateurs began to experiment with this Philadelphia cream cheese," Smith explains. "And they began making all sorts of things with it. But one of the things happened to be cheesecake. And that became very popular in the 1920s and the 1930s. ... Tourists came here, fell in love with it."

New York-style cheesecake became so popular that pinup girls of the era were called "cheesecake girls" because they looked even better than the real thing.

While the Big Apple's cheesecake may be the most famous, nearly every culture makes its own version.

"You have to get the people to taste it first, but once they do they prefer the ricotta cheesecake," says Gus Isgro. His family has been making Italian cheesecake at their bakery in Philadelphia since 1904.

"You start out with a good quality ricotta," Isgro tells Russ Mitchell. "You can see how moist it is. Much more so than a cream cheese."

The recipe hasn't changed in more than 100 years.

"What am I looking for here?" Mitchell asks, eyeing a piece of cake.

"You notice the creaminess of the cheese itself," Isgro replies. "If you notice how nice the ricotta is on the tip of the fork, you see it shining. That's what makes the ricotta cheesecake very good."

Isgro's family recipe may not have changed, but cheesecake sure has. These days, it comes in virtually any flavor or size. It even has its own restaurant chain. But you won't find Anna Hutchens' cheesecakes there.

Hutchens' company, SaborAM, in Naples, Fla., makes wine and champagne cheesecakes. Her gold-topped cakes are sold in the extravagant Neiman Marcus catalog.

"Who doesn't like champagne and chocolate?" she asks. "I think that's pure heaven."

Heavenly indeed, but the world's most expensive cheesecake is found at Saks for $300, or $50 a slice!

For most people, though, a $6 slice at Junior's is just right.

"I think it's the best cheesecake I've ever had. Definitely," says a customer.

How can it not be? It's a cake made out of cheese!


For more info:
Junior's Cheesecake, Brooklyn
Isgro Pastries, Philadelphia
SaborAM, Naples, Fla.
Food historian Andy Smith
Mikkelsen's Pastry Shop, Naples, Fla.
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