Cheese Heads

Take a drive to Llowville this weekend for the annual Cream Cheese Festival.






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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Author: Williams, Georgia
Date published: September 15, 2010

Cheesecake seems to be all the dessert rage these days. Perhaps folks are sick and tired of marble cake with chocolate frosting; maybe apple pie is becoming commonplace; could be that pudding is so 1970s. Whatever the reason, the rich, tasty and satisfying taste treat has emerged as the dessert of the new millennium.

Witness the explosive growth of The Cheesecake Factory, founded in 1978 and today with nearly 150 locations, the closest to Syracuse being at Walden Galleria in suburban Buffalo. The inviting eatery attracts your taste buds when you first walk in the door-glass-enclosed coolers hold dozens of cheesecake creations, including flavors like red velvet, dulce de leche caramel and banana cream.

Closer to home, Big Mama's Cheesecakes has outgrown the 2107 Brewerton Road, Mattydale location it has occupied for 2 years. Owner Carrie Fanizzi is moving the operation to Northern Lights Plaza at the end of October. "We need a bigger kitchen, and we need more space for our retail customers," she says.

Currently, Fanizzi reports that she makes 150 to 200 cheesecakes per week, and business is booming. "The increase in orders is what is leading us to move," she says. "Plus we want to be more open to the public." Big Mama's is open to the public Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m., and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. "Our hours will expand once the move takes place," Fanizzi says. "We're also going to be doing a lot of different things over there."

That includes selling cheesecake cupcakes, which she did at both the Taste of Syracuse and the New York State Fair, for $1. "We offered the $1 samples at the Fair because the economy is so bad," she says. "We figured people like to go to the Fair and try a few different things to eat, so they could have a $1 cupcake to nibble on, and if you wanted to try a different flavor later in the day, you could."

Big Mama's plans to return to the Fair in 2011, with luck at the same Horticulture Building location she landed at this year. "It was a very nice spot, and we hope they'll give it to us again."

While Fanizzi sells cheesecake by the slice during retail hours, the bulk of her business is wholesale to local restaurants. However, if you want to order a cheesecake from her, just give her a call and you'll have your treat in two days. Or you can request a sample platter from among the 40 different flavors made in Mattydale.

And to further show the popularity of cheesecake, Fanizzi says she is receiving more orders for wedding cakes than ever before. "We have done a lot of wedding cakes this year," she notes. "A lot of people are switching over from traditional cakes." As for special ingredients, Fanizzi wouldn't name any except for "a lot of patience and a lot of love. You have to take pride in what you do."

Of course, cheesecake wouldn't be cheesecake without its vital ingredient, cream cheese. Filed in the "who knew?" category could be the factoid that little Lowville, sitting on the western cusp of the Adirondacks, is home to the largest Philadelphia-brand cream cheese manufacturing plant in the world. Owned by Kraft Foods, the plant employs 335. So, wanting to jump on the local festival bandwagon, a committee formed in Lowville and devised the idea of a Cream Cheese Festival.

The sixth edition of the fest takes place Saturday, Sept. 18, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., along State Street, Lowville's main drag. "A group of us got together because we realized we needed an event, a celebration in Lowville, and we got thinking about what would be unique to this area, and someone thought of the Kraft plant," says Heidi VanZandt, a member of the festival committee. "It started out small, and it has grown every year."

Events include a children's Discovery Park, with $3 admission for the entire day; a cream cheese mural, cream cheese bingo, cream cheese eating contest and a cream cheese toss; artisans; food; music; and the highlight of the day, a huge cheesecake made by Kraft and touted as the largest of its kind in the United States.

"They do something different every year, different flavors, different designs, and they give away pieces until it's gone," says VanZandt. Since the point of cream cheese is to eat it, there are two recipe contests that Kraft sponsors, dessert and non-dessert. "Cream cheese is the theme, and it has to use Philadelphia brand," she adds. "The prizes are $500 for first place, $250 for second place, and a Kraft gift bag for third place."

For more information on the Cream Cheese Festival, visit www.creamcheese festival.com.

Speaking of Kraft and Philadelphia cream cheese, the two recipes above were culled from the Kraft website, so they want you to use their cream cheese (we won't tell if you cheat and use a store brand instead). Either way, they'll be pretty tasty.

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