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Cheese ball demands little of the cook, delivers on flavor

  • NEW YORK TIMES

    In its purest form a cheese ball is a mixture of sharp shredded cheese blended with cream cheese and, often, butter.

A cheese ball is the culinary equivalent of a Rorschach test. How you regard the creamy orb depends very much on where you were raised, how you were raised and — especially when facing one of the lesser examples — your emotional fortitude.

A colleague suggested that a cheese ball is one of those things her European parents would point to and say, “Americans will never understand food.” They are clearly not from the Midwest, where cheese balls are as much a part of the culinary lexicon as fish fries, hot dish and brats.

In its purest form a cheese ball is a mixture of sharp shredded cheese blended with cream cheese and, often, butter. It’s well seasoned, then rolled in nuts and herbs. It’s great spread on crisp, plain crackers and goes really well with a drink.

December is the Olympics for cheese ball fans. The treats populate dairy cases in many flavor varieties. Sharp cheddar and port wine may be the standard-bearers, but things can get crazy out there in cheese ball land.

Cheese balls seasoned with Worcestershire sauce and rolled in chopped dried beef are big at Ohio potlucks. In Texas a jalapeno-bacon cheese ball is often on the cocktail party buffet. There are cheese ball recipes engineered to taste like Buffalo chicken wings and Hawaiian pizza.

Chef Vivian Howard included a recipe in her new book, “Deep Run Roots.” Of the book’s more than 200 recipes, her Party Magnet cheese ball has drawn the most media attention.

For all of the cultural baggage the cheese ball carries, its appeal isn’t that hard to decipher.

“It’s something everybody has a connection to,” Howard said, “whether you want to admit it or not.”

Bits and Pieces Party Cheese Ball

From “Deep Run Roots,” by Vivian Howard (Little Brown)

  • 1/4 cup good-quality salted butter
  • 1 cup shredded mixed sharp cheeses, such as Gruyere, cheddar and blue cheese
  • 3 ounces goat cheese
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 heaping tablespoon minced scallions
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/4 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped, salted roasted pecans
  • 1 heaping tablespoon chopped parsley

Let butter and cheeses come to room temperature, at least 30 minutes out of the refrigerator.

Combine all ingredients except pecans and parsley in mixing bowl and beat until smooth, scraping down sides of the bowl once or twice, about 4 minutes.

Place mixture onto a piece of waxed paper and gently form into a ball. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes or until firm enough to work with.

Mix pecans and parsley together on a large plate or cutting board, then roll the cheese ball in the mixture. Pat the mixture and pat into the sides until you have an evenly coated ball. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

When ready to serve, let sit out for at least a half-hour to soften. Serve with good plain crackers or small toasts. Makes a 12-ounce cheese ball, about 8 to 10 servings.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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