Belle of the Ball

Reintroducing the cheese ball to the holiday table

Cheese Chick

Christine Hyatt promotes the wonders of fine cheese through food writing, recipe creation, food photography and video. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @cheesechick1.

Cheese balls, those somewhat questionable, occasionally soggy, nut-encrusted blobs appearing on holiday buffets for decades, have resurfaced in the past few years with a modern, decidedly upscale twist.

Though skeptical at first, as visions of the obscenely orange Hickory Farms cheeseballs of my youth played out in my head, I opened my mind to the idea that great cheese just might enliven this kitschy creation.

Let’s face it, cheeseballs are approachable in ways a hunk of gorgeous blue cheese might not be. Connoisseurs might look down on the offering, but if one is set out at a party it WILL be devoured. They can be surprisingly good and comforting, and even a thrifty way to impress your guests.

The history of the cheese ball is somewhat murky and incarnations appear throughout cookbooks and periodicals.

A persistent, though erroneous, story about the first cheese ball is in wide circulation in print and online. Legend has it that a 1,235-pound cheese ball was presented to President Thomas Jefferson in 1801. The cheese in question was actually a Cheshire cheese from Massachusetts, not the world’s first or largest cheese ball.

The world would have to wait almost a century for the concept to go mainstream.

An 1899 article in The New York Times shares a simple recipe for fried cheese balls meant to accompany a salad.

The idea caught on and evolved through a number of formats over the decades. Other noted recipes cited by food historians at called for mixing cream cheese, butter, cheddar, Roquefort and, later, cold-pack cheese before rolling in herbs or nuts.

Still other versions moved the concept in a warm direction with the addition of flour, eggs and breadcrumbs combined into bite-sized balls served warm, baked or fried. When cold-pack, or Club Cheese, was introduced in the 1930s, it became a key ingredient in cheeseballs, both homemade and commercial.

The concept is nothing if not versatile. For the impending holiday season, it seemed like a great time to check out a few methods of preparation for the humble cheese ball and update it with an artisan twist, using cheeses with bold flavor and complexity. The results were quite tasty, indeed!

Cream cheese is nearly always the right choice for the base. You can opt for Neuchatel, which is a lower-fat version, if that matters to you.

Some recipes call for butter to add richness and cut the tang of the cream cheese. This is especially compelling if you are looking for a sweet, rather than savory, version. If you want to up the tang factor, try a mixture of cream cheese and fresh goat cheese, which is delicious for savory combinations.

Vary the pungency and complexity in your recipe by adding younger, more mellow cheeses or opting for aged or blue cheeses that pack more flavor punch.

The exterior can be coated with complementary minced fresh herbs, chopped dried fruits and spices. Add some crunch with whole or chopped nuts, crisp crumbled bacon, crushed pretzels or your favorite crackers. For maximum crunch, be sure to roll the cheese ball in your preferred coating just prior to serving.

What is most important to remember is to make the cheese mixture ahead, allowing several hours or even a day for the flavors to meld. You’ll be rewarded with a more nuanced, balanced flavor. You can make one large cheese ball or, with a bit more finessing, try single, bite-sized morsels.

Whichever way you roll, you will elevate the fun and the flavor of your next gathering with a simple and tasty homemade cheese ball!


Holiday Cheese Ball with Goat Cheese & Bacon

Recipe by Christine Hyatt

An updated twist on a holiday classic made with quality ingredients and delicious results. This crowd-pleasing recipe is even tastier the second day when the flavors have had a chance to meld. Roll ’em smaller for festive single-serving size.

4 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
6 ounces aged cheddar, shredded
1–2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
½ teaspoon prepared horseradish, more to taste
4 slices of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 tablespoon green onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat leaf parsley

1. In a medium bowl, soften cream cheese with a fork. Add goat cheese and stir well to combine. Reserve ¼ cup shredded cheddar and add remainder to cream cheese mixture. Stir to combine. Add horseradish and enough crème fraîche, thinning to desired consistency. (If you prefer a silky smooth texture, use a food processor through this point.) Reserve 2 tablespoons of bacon crumbles and add rest to cheese mixture along with green onion. Stir to combine.

2. On a medium plate, combine remaining cheese, bacon crumbles and parsley. Scrape cheese mixture to the center of the bowl. Wet your hands and shake off excess water before forming mixture into a large ball, or portion individually for a cheese plate. Roll into coating mix. Wrap in plastic or waxed paper and refrigerate overnight. Serve with gourmet crackers or wedges of red and green bell peppers.

For this recipe, I used Rogue Creamery Mt. Mazama Goat Cheddar and Cypress Grove Ms. Natural plain goat cheese.

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