Rome (CNN) – It was nutritious, easy to prepare and excellent as a snack, especially when sprinkled with poppy seeds and served in cubes.
The ancient Romans dined on a delicious honey-crusted cheesecake called Sevilam, believed to be the true ancestor of the modern US-style cheesecake.
Instead of Philadelphia soft cheese, there were fresh ricotta of goat’s milk directly from the shepherds. It was worshiped by slaves, aristocrats and soldiers.
The first complete documentary recipe in history that details the preparation of a modern cheesecake approaching is from the third century BCE, and was written by a famous ancient Roman senator, army general and historian.
“Cato the Elder was not only a great writer and philosopher, he was a succulent and supporter of rural traditions and food,” says Giorgio Franchetti, an ancient Roman food scholar and author of the book “Meals with the Ancient Romans.”
Franchetti says Cato recorded the recipe for his favorite cake, Seville, in one of his masterpieces, “De Agri Culture”. “Roman is very popular in homes,” he tells CNN.
Cake with legs
US-style cheesecake is now gaining popularity in Italy.
Franchetti says there are many legends and stories surrounding the creation of this popular dessert, but he insists that only one of its Roman origins is legal.
Thanks to the expansion of the Roman Empire, Sevilam spread everywhere, eventually to England and then, centuries later, to the New World, developing over time and taking a local turn.
“Sevilam’s legs were very long, he traveled all over the world,” says Franchetti, who has discovered many ancient Roman dishes. In time the Romans completed the technique of cooking and preparation, bringing it to their colonies, which stretched from the Middle East to Britannia.
“It was a very basic cake made from everyday simple ingredients: goat’s milk, honey and eggs. And thanks to Keto we also know the exact amount of each.”
According to another original story, the “basic” common dessert of cheese and honey was made by the ancient Greeks before Rome, in the 8th century BCE, and was used to energize Olympic athletes.
However, some secondary Greek sources referring to the dish, the franchise says, do not give specific details about how it was made or what it looked like, let alone offer a specific recipe.
If it was adopted and purified by the Roman conquerors of Greece, he adds, it was the Romans who globalized Sevilam, not the Greeks.
‘Back up the deep center well’
Looks like a well-cooked sevillium omelette.
In his recipe, Cato gives specific instructions and tips for making cheesecake.
He says that in a terracotta bowl greased with olive oil, mix half a pound of flour (1 Roman Libra was about 11.5 ounces or 327 grams), 2.5 goat cheese (aka ricotta), one egg and a quarter of honey, cover it with a lid and then Put it on the fire.
Cato clearly advises to be sure to roast the deep, thick center well. “Once cooked, pour honey over it and sprinkle poppy seeds on top, then put it back on the fire to finalize the baking before serving,” says the recipe.
Sevilam was probably served without a spoon, as the Romans liked to eat with their fingers, but it was cubed to make it easier. It was usually eaten throughout the meal instead of as a dessert.
Cato’s Sevilam can still be tasted today, along with other ancient Roman dishes at archeological sites in Italy, as well as recreates at selected “Roman dinners” hosted by the franchise and “Archio-Cook” Cristina Conte.
Private occasions usually feature diners dressed in Roman robes, typical of the royal atmosphere.
“Sevilam is extremely easy and quick to make, just two hours less than cheesecake,” says Conte, who also cooks ancient Roman dishes at home with his family. “It has an excellent sweet-sour taste due to its honey and cheese.”
“It was a very polite treat eaten regularly by both low and aristocratic families. Whenever possible I bake it in the oven or in the wood oven, and when it is puffy and creamy I serve it hot.”
When fully baked, the sevilam looks like a round pancake or omelette, is slightly yellowish and its surface is overcooked. According to Conte, the Romans also made a variety of it with apples and pears.
The Romans loved to eat cubed cheesecake as a snack between meals.
Today, Seville’s heritage can be found in numerous classic Italian desserts.
Most pastries and cakes made with cheese products such as ricotta, mascarpone and burata can trace their lineage.
Naples Pasteira, Sicilian cassata and “Granny Cake,” are related to the classic tart with ricotta, lemon and pine nuts. Pecorino is made with lamina laurel tart with ricotta and chocolate, and sfuagiu of the Sicilian village of Polizi Generosa, with sweet lamb cheese, candy pumpkin, cinnamon and cocoa, along with ricotta and chocolate, similar to the sardines of ladle cheese and honey.
Then there is the Italian-style cheesecake. Thanks to globalization, Sevilam has returned to its roots through American cheesecake, and it has become a sweet trend in Italy.
This Torta Alla RobiolaThe cake, made with a special type of soft cheese popular in northern Italy, is similar to the classic New York cheesecake – Bar the Philadelphia Cream Cheese – and is based on crushed artisan cookies.
Despite skipping milk on delicious indigenous pastries – from canola to tiramisu, which also includes certain types of cheese – Italians have come to worship the American cheesecake, unaware of its Roman origins.
Many resorts, pastry shops and restaurants now have it on their menus, and not just in the big tourist cities that cater to exotic tastes. Today you can find restaurants with cheesecakes even in the deepest Sicily, considered the “kingdom” of Italian desserts.
Simona Orlandi: US cheesecake is “fresh and pleasant” in Italian summer.
Biscomania is a typical artisan cake and cookie boutique in Capena, a small rural town near Rome. It makes traditional US cheesecake and Italian twists with pistachios, nutella and red fruit jam toppings. Philadelphia cheese, mascarpone, ricotta or yogurt are used depending on the taste of the customers, who tend to buy it for special occasions.
And while many cheesecakes need to be baked, others are set by refrigeration, with no need to bake.
“It’s not just part of the growing American Fed,” says Simona Orlandi, owner of Biscomania. “Refrigerated cheesecake is like a kind of semifredo, which is very refreshing and fun in summer. Young people usually order it, they are the most American around here.
“Unlike in the US, unleashed cheesecake is probably the most popular among Italians. It requires no preparation, baking and yeast, so families have started making it at home as well. It’s a nice cake to make yourself.”
Because Italian meals are usually very plentiful, Orlandi advises avoiding eating cheesecake as a dessert at the end of a meal because, in his opinion, it requires a lot of extra digestive power.
Franchetti himself is a fan of cheesecake and says his story shows that food can also be an archeological treasure.
“Although we may have lost traces of what happened to Sevilam over time, we know for sure that it was completely reborn in cheesecake, which Anglophone culture redistributed around the world.
“The ancient Romans discovered and spread it thousands of years ago, and today the Romans have recovered it from places under Roman rule. In a way, the cheesecake has returned home.”