Today’s cheesecakes are made with cream cheese, plus a combination of sugar, eggs, flour, and flavors. Cream cheese is a modern invention, but cheesecakes go further back. There is evidence that cheesecakes using ricotta, cottage cheese, mascarpone and others existed long before. However, if you traveled back to North America in the 1700s (and Western Europe) and ordered a “cheesecake” you would probably find yourself disappointed.
Cheesecakes used to have no cheese at all! Although they have various flavors a modern eater might recognize, like lemon, many others would be completely foreign, like potato cheesecake. As far as those who study the cookbooks of the 1700s can surmise, such cakes were called cheesecakes because they were made to have the consistency and texture of cheese, and also were usually made in a pie-like dish and kind of resembled a cheese wheel.