Even in antiquity, appropriate nutrition was part of the Olympic Games as the competitors expected that it would improve their performances. After their strenuous efforts, however, they felt – like our modern athletes – that they deserved some indulgence. One of these was what we would call nowadays, a cheesecake, i.e. a kind of flour cake layered with cheese and honey, the best of which came from
[Picture from the Quarzy Newsletter of Feb 2018]
As early as 250 BC, Archestratus of Gela wrote a gastronomic guide “Life of Luxury”. Unfortunately only fragments of his book have survived but one such scrap is recommending the cheesecake made in
as being the best,
although the recipe is not being disclosed. Athens
As always, the Romans were keen to copy the Greeks, including their cheesecake recipe which Cato the Elder in 160 BC included in his “De Agri Cultura” in five different variations. There was the vaillum, a sweet version and a savory one called libum often made as an offering to the gods. Both types were made with a simple mixture of flour and cheese that could be eaten with a spoon.
A fancier version was the placenta cake, alternating layers of dough, cheese, and honey and spiced with bay leaves. Occasionally this cake was sprinkled with black poppy seeds. Out of curiosity, we may want to experiment and create this placenta cake according to Cato’s original recipe:
Shape the placenta as follows: place a single row of tracta [a type of dough] along the whole length of the base dough. This is then covered with the mixture [cheese and honey] from the mortar. Place another row of tracta on top and go on doing so until all the cheese and honey have been used up. Finish with a layer of tracta…place the placenta in the oven and put a preheated lid on top of it. (with thanks to the Quarzy Newsletter of Feb 2018).