New Yorkers have a habit of claiming credit for pretty much everything. However in the case of cheesecake, they’re pretty much right. For it was upstate New York dairymen who invented “Philadelphia” cream cheese in the 1880’s, and it was the Jewish deli owners of Manhattan who subsequently used that cheese to make the thing we now know as cheesecake. That was in the 1920’s, and at the time a fellow by the name of Arnold Reuben was reputed to be the true master of the art. It was his 58th Street deli that is said to have inspired the now-legendary cheesecake makers at Leonard’s, Junior’s and above all Lindy’s, the creators of what is now regarded as the archetypal New York cheesecake.
Where did they get their inspiration? people often wonder. Odds are, the kings of deli cheesecake were probably taking their cues from Italian immigrants, who likely brought recipes for sweet cheese pies and cakes with them from the Old Country. But that’s really just speculation, for the truth is that regardless of what tradition first informed the cheesecake makers of Manhattan, the cakes they created from unique, locally available ingredients were undeniably, irrefutably American.