The only Mexican cheesecake I’d found that I ever really liked was a hot pin up of Salma Hayek. Until a couple of weeks ago.
It wasn’t for lack of looking. Or trying. But I had decided that good cheesecake just didn’t exist in Central Mexico. It was always too dry. Or had a boring crust. Or not creamy enough. Or not cheesy enough. Or far too sweet. But that was until a couple of weeks ago.
Cheesecake. Oh how I missed it when I decided to spend half of my life in Mexico. I would count the days in early April until I would be back in Toronto and good cheesecake would be back on my tongue. A quick stop at Carole’s (whose cheesecake I’ve been devouring for about forty years) on Yorkville for a slice of pistachio and I would be an almost normal human being again.
Cheesecake has been around even longer than I have. She who knows everything, aka Wikipedia, says: The earliest attested mention of a cheesecake is by the Greek physician Aegimus, who wrote a book on the art of making cheesecakes (πλακουντοποιικόν σύγγρ). And no, I don’t know how to type Greek letters; I copied and pasted.
Hector Blumenthal, Britain’s most celebrated chef has another account. Forme of Cury, a cookbook written in 1390, has a recipe that Blumenthal argues makes cheesecake an English invention.
I have had cheesecake in Britain, in France, in The Netherlands, in Germany, in Portugal, in Greece, but they were all a little too much like Mexican cheesecake and, as already mentioned, Mexican cheesecake just doesn’t cut it.
The cheesecake I love is American style cheesecake and American cheesecake was probably born around 1929. Again, back to she who knows everything:
Arnold Reuben, owner of the legendary Turf Restaurant at 49th and Broadway in New York City, claimed that his family developed the first creamcheese cake recipe. Other bakeries relied on cottage cheese. According to legend, he was served a cheese pie in a private home, and he fell in love with the dessert. Using his hostess’ recipe and a pie she made with ingredients he provided, he then began to develop his own recipe for the perfect cheesecake. Reuben soon began to serve his new recipe in his Turf Restaurant, and the cheesecake quickly became very popular with the people who frequented Reuben’s Broadway restaurant.
That cheesecake I had in San Miguel a couple of weeks ago was an American style cheesecake. A moist, creamy, cheesy, not too sweet and very tasty cheesecake. A chocolate cheesecake. One of my favorite flavors of cheesecake. But there aren’t too many flavors that aren’t a favorite.
The occasion was a party. A pot luck party. At the home of a friend of Don Day’s Wife’s. There were a lot of appies. Good appies. And then there was the chocolate cheesecake.
I asked who made the cheesecake. I wanted to congratulate them.
I learned that it was the hostess. That her name was Karen Sweetland. And when she isn’t making food in her own home, Karen makes food in other people’s homes. For Karen owns Voila! And Voila! is a catering company.
As you might guess from her name, Karen Sweetland is an expat. From the U.S. Which is, of course, the reason why she makes an American and not a Mexican style cheesecake.
I asked if she made other cheesecakes and Karen told me, “I do all flavors imaginable, both sweet and savory. I use liqueurs, different cheeses…though usually cream cheese… fruits, flavorings, nuts and all sorts of crusts.”
“And do those all sorts of crusts include a crumbled cookie crust or, more specifically, a Graham cracker crust”, I asked.
And, Karen answered, “Yes”.
”And do you make what I call a traditional New York style, one with cherries on top”, I asked.
And Karen told me, “Yes and no. I prefer to do a creamier version of cheesecake than the New York style which tends to be more dry.”
Some of the more intriguing cheesecake flavors that Voila! offers are pumpkin, avocado lime and curried chicken. Curried chicken?
“It makes a great appetizer”, said Karen.
Food has been Karen Sweetland’s passion since she was a child and, today, she creates from her own recipes that she’s developed over the years.
“I am not a graduate of a cooking institute, merely the granddaughter of a hell of a cook”, Karen said, “someone who has been cooking family meals since age 12, entertaining since I was 19, and refining a collection of recipes of my own creation throughout.”
So how do you get a slice of the best cheesecake I’ve ever tasted in San Miguel de Allende? Well, unfortunately, Voila!’s desserts aren’t sold in any retail stores. The core of their business is catering small, intimate luncheons and dinner parties for up to about ten people.
“But we do create and deliver custom-ordered hors d’oeuvres to people’s homes for special occasions”, said Karen. “And those orders often include a dessert…and that dessert is often a cheesecake”.
And so I’m thinking of what counts as a “special occasion”. And I’m thinking any day with a “y” in it.
You can learn more about Voila! at www.voilasma.com and contact Karen Sweetland at email@example.com or 415 566 1557.