Behind the Bite: Basque Cheesecake, the Phenomenon on Every Foodie’s Lips

This post is part of our Behind the Bite series: deep dives into the dishes that we can’t stop thinking about.

The hottest trend in the baking scene at the moment is without a doubt the world-famous burnt Basque cheesecake, which originated at a restaurant called La Viña in San Sebastian. 

The beauty of the Basque cheesecake is its simplicity. It doesn’t even have a crust, unlike its New Yorker cousin, and the list of ingredients is shorter than you would imagine. 

The key factor is the perfect baking time—or rather, underbaking. The cake has to be taken out of the oven when it’s still very jiggly inside to guarantee the smooth, gooey, almost liquid texture. The outside of the cake has to be burnt brown—that gives it extra flavor and a slightly caramelized final touch.

But where did the story of San Sebastian’s famous cheesecake actually begin? We found out the story behind the bite.

La Viña has been serving the best cheesecake in San Sebastian for decades. Join us as we go behind the bite of this foodie phenomenon!

Where it all got started 

La Viña, home of the superstar cheesecake, is a bar on the famous Calle 31 de Agosto in the Old Town of San Sebastian. This place is one of the cornerstones of the local food scene: it was founded in 1959 by the parents, uncle and aunt of current owner Santiago Rivera.

Growing up in the restaurant, Santiago learned the secrets of Basque cuisine from an early age. By reading different recipe books, trying out various versions of cheesecakes and combining the best parts of all of them, he finally came up with a perfect combination of smooth texture and heavenly flavor. 

The famous Basque cheesecake was born.

Santiago Rivera, the chef who invented the legendary cheesecake in San Sebastian
Santiago Rivera, the genius behind the famous cheesecake.

The road to fame

By that time, La Viña was already a favorite amongst San Sebastian locals, and the cheesecake also had won the hearts of donostiarras.

But little by little, curious travelers also found the place and the hidden gem inside. Word of mouth started spreading: the world’s best cheesecake could actually—against many expectations—be found in a Northern Basque city!

Today, people from all over the world make a pilgrimage to San Sebastian, with trying the cake as the first thing on their to-do list. And they’re ready to line up in the extremely packed bar—something that comes naturally for the locals but can be very intimidating for a visitor. 

But it’s all worth it! The expressions on people’s faces when they try this piece of heaven for the first time tell more than any words can describe. But let’s try it anyway: happiness, lust and sometimes (no kidding!) tears of joy. 

La Viña, one of our favorite historical bars in San Sebastian, also happens to serve some of the best cheesecake in the city—maybe even in all of Spain!
Everyone is all smiles when the cheesecake comes out at La Viña!

Conquering the world

Thanks to social media, great things don’t stay secret for too long in this day and age. 

Over the past couple of years, Santiago Rivera has been surprised quite a few times with news of restaurants and bakeries all over the world that have started serving Basque-style cheesecake, inspired by the recipe he created!

According to our research, you can find La Viña-inspired cheesecake in New York, Istanbul, London, Melbourne, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Chicago, just to name a few. And that list is growing all the time. 

cheesecake at La Viña
Sure, some of the copycat Basque cheesecake recipes are probably good in their own right—but nothing beats the original from La Viña.

Viral cheesecake

Last year, American expat and great foodie Marti Buckley published a cookbook of the most iconic Basque recipes. Unsurprisingly, La Viña’s cheesecake is one of them. That’s when the cake went completely viral, and no need to wonder why!

In Buckley’s words:

Somewhere between a New York cheesecake and a flan, La Viña cheesecake sets the gold standard in Basque Country. Part of this dessert’s joy is its abundance. Tall, creamy, and downright sinful, the combination of five simple ingredients is ethereal.”

Marti Buckley
Basque-style cheesecake and sherry wine
A match made in heaven: Basque-style cheesecake and sweet sherry wine.

Try it at home!

In all its simplicity, we challenge you to try this guilty pleasure at home! It’s the perfect something for your next dinner party, or even for the Christmas table. Serve the cake with a glass of sweet sherry and success is guaranteed!

Try this recipe for San Sebastian’s legendary cheesecake from Marti Buckley’s cookbook “Basque Country, A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover’s Paradise.”

Are you craving cheesecake yet? We are, too. Join us for a slice on our Ultimate Pintxos & Wine Tour. It’s the perfect way to cap off a pintxos crawl in the Old Town, and guaranteed love at first bite.

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