Home Italy Revisited Bookshelf Plays About Mary Melfi Contact Us
pies and tarts
Libum (Ancient Roman Cheesecake with ricotta, honey and bay leaves)
Originated from: Ancient Rome
Occasion: Special times
Contributed by: Paul Drowns, recipe and notes; image courtesy of NYPL, Digital Gallery #1580990

Printer Friendly Version


Libum (Ancient Roman Cheesecake) Serves 4

Ancient Roman Recipe
2 pounds of cheese
1 pound of wheat flour
1/2 pound of fine flour
1 egg

Modern Adapted Recipe
1 cup of flour sifted into a bowl
8 ounces of best quality ricotta possible
1 egg, beaten
8 fresh bay leaves
1/2 cup of clear honey


Ancient Roman Method:

Bray 2 pounds of cheese thoroughly in a mortar; when it is thoroughly macerated, add 1 pound of wheat flour, or, if you wish the cake to be more dainty, 1/2 pound of fine flour, and mix thoroughly with the cheese. Add 1 egg, and work the whole well. Pat out a loaf, place on leaves, and bake slowly on a warm hearth under a crock.

Modern Adapted Method:

Place the ricotta in a fine-meshed sieve or colander lined with several layers of cheesecloth, place it over a bowl, and then set it aside to drain for an hour or two.

Preheat oven to 425?F.

Beat the drained ricotta until it becomes soft and airy and then beat in the egg.

Adding in thirds, fold the flour into the beaten ricotta.

Form the resulting soft dough into a round and then divide it into 4 equal parts. Mold each quarter into a rounded bun shape and then place them on an oiled sheet pan, tucking 2 bay leaves underneath each one.

Put the cakes in the oven, covered with a testo, and bake them for 35-40 minutes until golden-brown.

Warm the honey and then spoon it repeatedly over warm cakes so that it is absorbed.

Allow the libum to rest 30 minutes before serving.


Marcus Porcius Cato, or Cato Major (Cato the Elder, 234 BC - 149 BC), was born in Tusculum, in the province of Latium, southeast of Rome. A roman Consul, Cato was also a writer and the first author of a history of Italy in Latin. His only writing to survive in its complete form, is De Agri Cultura (?On Farming?), which includes insights on rural life in the 2nd century BC. In De Agri Cultura, he mentions libum, a cake to be used as sacrifice to household spirits. The first recipe cited is his original recipe..... Roman cookware was typically made of terra cotta and most Roman baking took place in either an enclosed wood-fired oven or in the hot ashes left from a fire.... Reference is often made to dishes being cooked ?sub testu,? or ? under a brick.? The ?brick? that libum and other dishes were baked under, was a domed earthenware lid called a testo (L. testu). An overturned, ciotola (earthenware bowl), shallow clay pot, metal bowl, or casserole all make acceptable substitutes. The ?folia? called for in the Latin recipe, mentioned as ?leaves? in the second recipe, are intended to be fresh bay leaves, and impart a wonderful aroma to the libum.

Back to main list