Cheesecake and Fireworks

Grandma Clara's Original CheesecakeToday’s guest is Gary Minkoff, founder (with his cousin) of Grandma’s Original Cheesecake. I am honored to have Gary answer some questions about his delicious cheesecake.

1) How did you get started in cheesecake business? My cousin had the idea years ago to shop, cook and bake with our grandmother–Clara Rothschild. This enabled him to do a couple of things…explore a new dimension of “traditional” cooking, while enjoying hours of quality time with our Grandma Clara. That was a priceless experience which I know he treasures. She sensed that he might want to commercialize her recipes and provided some gentle encouragement.

After Grandma passed away, Fred showed me that he had completed some solid market research/taste testing that suggested the product could be successful. I was not only impressed by what he had done, but as we have gone from idea to an actual product that we sell, so many of our friends, suppliers and technical experts have been enthusiastically supportive. We had some “fits and starts” but we created a business plan and now that we have launched, we are working hard to implement our plan-with adjustments as we progress.

2) Who is Grandma Clara and why should we eat her cheesecake? My mother and my cousin Fred’s father were siblings. Clara Rothschild was their mother, and she brought this cheesecake recipe with her from Eastern Europe (Prussia is where she was lived. She hiked across Europe c. 1914 (?) with her sisters to escape the Tsar), apparently her grandparents’ recipe… We think the best reason to eat it is because it is a uniquely delicious treat.

It’s novel–we do not use any of the cheeses typically found in today’s cheesecake, It has a crunch in the crust and it can be eaten warm or cold. It also has the unusual combination of pineapple and raisins—so it has a great deal of flavor and texture—but no particular flavor is dominant. Because it’s so different from existing cheesecakes, our slogan is “You’ve never had cheesecake like this!” We’re biased of course, but most people who have tried it love our cheesecake.

We have also received a certification from the NJ Division of Agriculture to use the “Made with Jersey Fresh Milk” label on the cake, because our cheese is made to our specifications using milk from NJ dairies. It’s important to us to support the NJ economy-by sourcing as many of ingredients as possibly locally. We think that is consistent with the tradition of this recipe; 200 years ago, our great, great grandparents used ingredients they could get in/around their community, so to the extent practice, we like the fact that locally sourcing ingredients is part of the tradition of this cake.

Last–people enjoy the nostalgic experience of food that dates back generations–everyone has a story they share about their own family’s recipes when they taste this cake. In many respects, we think this in whatever form we serve this cheesecake–that it’s evocative–it’s a conversation piece-so it combines a delicious treat with a social experience.

Using Grandma’s recipe, we created a “cheesecake single”, so that people can enjoy this traditional recipe —packaged in a modern, convenient serving—without worrying about having a large (the original recipe yields a 5lb cake) tray of cake leftover. We are refining our product line to include a cake in that original size, as well as a cake of about 2-3 lbs that will serve about 4-6, and a “party pack” size with 20 slices. We also have ideas for different flavors, to enhance the traditional recipe; we will introduce them soon.

3) How can we get some of this delicious cheesecake? It’s available at the Highland Park Farmer’s Market for the next 3 weeks; this weekend at the East Coast Food and Wine Festival. Dairy Deluxe at 811 Raritan Avenue may still have a limited supply.
We are in discussions with other farmer’s markets, and have begun approaching specialty/gourmet food stores, caterers and restaurants about carrying our cake. We are also building a website. People can go to our Grandma Clara’s Original page on Facebook, and we will keep them updated.

4) What do you do when you are not selling (or eating) cheesecake? You mean there is time for something other than cheesecake? 🙂 I own a business that consults to sales and marketing organizations, and teach various professional development courses at Rutgers. Fred is a Chef and caterer, with years of experience in food service.

5) Kashrut? Our cheesecake is certified kosher by the Kof K. It is a dairy product.


On another local topic, fireworks finally return. On July 3, residents in Highland Park and New Brunswick will come together to celebrate Independence Day in Donaldson Park in Highland Park. For the last few years, residents in both Highland Park and New Brunswick have foregone a local fireworks celebration because of construction in Boyd Park and Route 18 in New Brunswick. The construction project is complete, but because Boyd Park is smaller now, there is not enough room to support a fireworks show, said Mike Blackwell, superintendent of recreation for New Brunswick. So the fireworks will be shot from Donaldson Park at the bottom of Second and Third Avenues in Highland Park.

So, since this is soon after Shabbat is over, the question asked will be: “Is it permissible to make havdalah on fireworks?”

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