Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a 9-inch springform pan.
Mix the melted butter into the breadcrumbs. Transfer to the springform pan and spread evenly across the bottom. (Pressing down with the flat base of a drinking glass helps even the surface.)
Slice 8 olives in half lengthwise and set aside for garnish. Coarsely chop the remaining olives.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add ricotta and mix until the cheeses are well combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
Add the eggs, orange zest and juice. Mix until they are just incorporated with the cheeses. Gently stir in the chopped olives, feta and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.
Spoon mixture into springform pan and carefully spread over the breadcrumbs, smoothing the top as you go. Arrange reserved olive halves on top in a decorative pattern.
Set the pan in a large roasting pan, carefully fill the roasting pan with simmering water until it reaches halfway up the side of the springform pan.
Bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, until the cheesecake has nearly set. The very center may still be jiggly at this point. Turn the oven off, and let the cheesecake sit for 30 minutes in the oven in order to set completely.
Carefully remove the cheesecake from the oven, then from the water bath. Allow to cool completely before serving. May be made one day in advance, then wrapped in cling wrap or stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Remove cheesecake from the refrigerator 1 hour before serving so it can return to room temperature.
Master Recipe Variations
• Use lemon zest and juice instead of orange, swirl in pesto and ¼ cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Garnish with sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil leaves.
• Use either orange or lemon zest and juice, then sauté 1 cup chopped spring onions until softened. Stir into batter with chopped fresh chives, parsley and thyme. Garnish with fresh herbs.
• Use 1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese in place of the feta. Top with walnut halves and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and honey before serving.
• Use a springform pan, and be sure to test that the base is securely fastened before filling it. There is more than one story told of a cheesecake leaking into the water bath that it bakes in—and more likely than not, operator error is to blame.
• To test it, secure the base to side band, then push on the base from below. If the base moves, refasten it. If it doesn’t move, you should be in good shape.
• You can double wrap the exterior of the pan in heavy duty aluminum foil for added protection in the water bath. Just be sure not to cover up or disturb the cheesecake.
• Cracking can be caused by over-mixing, so be sure to mix added ingredients just until they are combined. And no peeking! Avoid opening the oven door while the cheesecake bakes.
• If cracking does occur, don’t be discouraged. Cleverly placed herbs can disguise a multitude of sins.
• When done, let cool to room temperature. Gently slide a sharp knife around the edge before unlatching the side band of the pan. Serve atop the bottom round, set on a more attractive serving dish.