It wasn’t Lee Mathis’ idea to put cheesecake in jars. It actually came from an instructor and friend at Colorado Mesa University.
"Dan Kirby walked up to me one day and he's like, 'Dude, you gotta put the cheesecakes in a jar,' and I was like, 'Ya, right.'" Mathis says. "But I couldn't get the idea out of my head."
Two months later, Mathis says, he put his first cheesecake in a jar.
Mathis' company, Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes, makes traditional flavors like German chocolate, but that's not all.
"We kind of push the boundary sometimes," he says.
Just try his jabanero pepper key lime cheesecake.
A year or two ago, Mathis launched a line of savory cheesecakes, though he's not calling them cheesecakes anymore.
"If I mention to someone it's a savory appetizer cheesecake, there's a look like a deer in headlights. So we rebranded them as savory craft spreads," Mathis says.
An interview with Mathis is the latest installment in "Colorado Matters'" series, "Fish to Focaccia," about Coloradans who create food for farmers' markets.
Cheesecakes weren't Mathis' first career, like many other food entrepreneurs. He worked in newspaper sales for about two decades, but then faced a life-threatening illness and had to move on to another job.
"I came back here, and ended up in Grand Junction," Mathis says, adding that he was driving a cab to make a living, but didn't enjoy it.
"I've always loved cooking. I grew up on the Atlantic City boardwalk, tossing pizzas, doing silver-dollar pancakes in the window," Mathis says. "So I called up what was then Mesa State College and asked if they had a culinary program."
Mathis' business expanded quickly at the beginning, and it gained some attention from national food news media. But the recession really hurt him. "We almost went out of business a few times," Mathis says.
Now the business has mostly recovered, and this year, it's expanding to the East Coast.
"The thing is, if you're lucky enough to find out what you have a passion for in life, and you can figure out a way to actually make a living out of it, you're living the life of Riley," Mathis says.
Recipe: Peach Decadence Cheesecake
By Lee Mathis
1/8 cup unsalted butter (melted)
1 1⁄2 cups white chocolate macadamia nut cookies (finely chopped)
1⁄4 cup macadamia nuts (finely chopped)
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 cup brandied Palisade peaches (chopped, separated into 1⁄2 and 2 1⁄4 cups) or other peaches
2 lbs Philadelphia cream cheese (softened)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp peach extract
1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract
1⁄4 cup brandied Palisade peaches (chopped) or other peaches
Preheat oven to 325°. Melt Butter and mix crust ingredients. Pat into a 9” Springform Pan. Sprinkle 1⁄4 cup of chopped Brandied Peaches on top of crust. Put aside.
Mix cream cheese and sugar at medium speed in mixer. Add eggs, one at a time. Add extracts, salt. Add 1⁄2 cup of chopped Brandied Peaches. Mix until all blended well.
Pour into springform pan and bake at 325° for 50 minutes. Shut off oven and let cool in oven for 15 minutes. Open door and let cool for an additional 30 minutes.
Take out cooled cheesecake. Sprinkle 1⁄4 cup of chopped Brandied Peaches over top.
Mix together sour cream, sugar, 1 TBS chopped macadamia nuts and peach extract. Pour over top of cooled cheesecake. Return to pre-heated oven (325°) and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Shut off oven and let cool in oven for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and sprinkle 1 TBS of toasted chopped macadamia nuts over top. Chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours (preferably overnight).
De-pan cheesecake and drizzle with pureed peaches. Sprinkle 2 TBS toasted macadamia nuts over top.
* To make peach puree, take 2 lbs of Palisade peaches, preferably freestone and blanche for 1 minute in boiling water. Transfer immediately to an ice water bath. Peel cooled peaches. Simmer cooled, blanched peaches in a mixture of 5 1⁄4 cups water, 2 1⁄2 cups sugar, 2 TBS lemon juice, 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp grated ginger until soft. Puree in blender and strain..