Cooking with Cheese


As our week of cheese ball recipes comes to a close, we wanted to share a few final thoughts. First, and most importantly, is that we hope our enthusiasm for the oft-maligned ball has inspired you to brush off your old recipes and revive this classic holiday party dish.

Second is that ingredients do matter. No, you probably won’t want to use your $50/lb. Hook’s 15-year cheddar, but there’s no excuse to use a processed cheese food product, either. This week I spotted a recipe that called for “a jar of Kraft blue cheese.” I can not imagine an occasion for which it would be appropriate to buy blue cheese in a jar. And you won’t see me reaching for the mayo jar either, even if the Queen-of-Butterfat herself recommends it. You can make a perfectly delightful ball with the better cheddars available at your local grocer, or even mix one “budget” cheese with something a little nicer.

Finally, get creative! The flavor combinations are nearly endless. We drew from popular dips, onion and pimento, for two of our balls. You can go spicy with smoked paprika, sweet with cinnamon and pumpkin, or add a Mexican flair with cumin and jalapenos.

Cheese + Champagne Original Cheese Ball Recipes

We’re also tickled to see cheese ball love spreading around the Web:

Okay, part of the reason we’re so mad about cheese balls is their retro, kitschy fun. And while you can class them up into more sophisticated versions, sometimes you just wanna have fun. I may live in Virginia now, but I’m not a native Southerner. So the first time I spotted pimento cheese on a menu, I skipped over it. Eventually, I caved and sampled the pimento grilled cheese at Cheesetique. Holy yum. Suddenly I understood why pimento cheese was suddenly popping up on respected food blogs. (Pimentos are even starring in the signature mac-n-cheese served on CapMacDC — DC’s new pasta food truck. Yes, you heard me — we have a pasta truck. But we’ll talk more about that later.)

Naturally I just had to had to try pimento cheese in ball form. The best part is that to reach the right consistency, you replace the mayonnaise with cream cheese — perfect for mayo-haters like yours truly. I debated rolling it in chopped pecans, but didn’t want to add the competing flavor. Plus, the red flecks of peppers are like Christmas confetti.

Pimento Cheese Ball

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated smoked gouda
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped pimento peppers
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Instructions: Let grated cheeses and cream cheese come to room temperature. Place in a medium-sized mixing bowl, add pimentos, salt, and pepper(s), and mix well with a spatula to combine. (You can also mix the ingredients in a food processor if you prefer.) Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Enjoy with crackers and celery sticks.

Cheese Ball Week continues here on C+C. For today’s ball, I wanted to create one that could pull double duty as an appetizer or in a dessert line up. I started with the fresh, floral Purple Haze chevre from Cypress Grove, laced with lavender and fennel pollen. Instead of the usual cream cheese, I used ricotta as the mixer, and then added a hint of cocoa powder. My “ball” was a late addition to my Friday night dinner menu and didn’t chill as long as it should have, resulting in more of a blob-like appearance. But it still tasted delicious! And went nicely with the champagne we opened for dinner. Should you find yourself with leftovers, it makes a delicious spread for toast, too.

Cocoa-Lavender Cheese Ball

Ingredients:
1 4-ounce package of Cypress Grove Purple Haze
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon cocoa powder, plus additional tablespoon

Instructions: In a mini food processor or mixing bowl, combine the Purple Haze and ricotta cheeses until smooth. Add 1 teaspoon cocoa powder and mix until combined. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon cocoa powder on small plate. Form the cheese mixture into a bowl and gently roll to coat in the cocoa powder. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Enjoy!

Though it’s still Chanukah and I have some of my potato chip-crusted cheese ball in the refrigerator, today our thoughts turn to Christmas. That’s a slightly weird thing to type, as I’m Jewish, but when I put together today’s featured cheese ball, I couldn’t help but notice the red-and-green color palette. But regardless of what you celebrate this month, you’ll want to make room for this appetizer.

Colleen and I have made no secret of our love for goat cheese on C+C, and I thought a fresh chevre would lighten up the typical (and heavy) cream-cheese mixture and add an unexpected tang to the cheese ball. To equal portions of goat cheese and cream cheese I added a handful of chopped fresh basil and then topped the ball with yellow tomato-onion jam I made this summer. The freshness of the basil matched perfectly with the almost lemony light flavor of the goat cheese, and the tomato jam rounds out each bite with a rich, brown sugar-infused sweetness. If you don’t have any homemade jam handy – and let’s face it, most people don’t – find the best tomato chutney available as a substitute. And next summer, make the jam.

Tomato, Basil and Goat Cheese Ball

Unlike yesterday’s cheese ball, which required several hours of refrigeration to help it keep its shape, this recipe can be prepared just minutes before serving. The extra-soft texture makes it easy to spread on hearty whole wheat crackers (Carr’s brand is our favorite).

4 oz. soft goat cheese (chevre)
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup finely chopped basil
½ cup tomato jam or chutney

Place goat cheese and cream cheese in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly with a spatula. Toss in chopped basil and mix until evenly distributed throughout the cheese. Mold the mixture into a ball with your hands and place onto a serving platter. Spoon the tomato jam on the top and sides of the ball. Dig in!

Two years ago, not long after Colleen and I launched C+C, we decided to mix things up for the holidays a bit and took a break from the Wine Spectator 100 Great Cheeses list to do two holiday cheese recipe posts. I wrote about the updated fondue I made for my family, and Colleen posted a recipe for a Chesapeake-inspired cheese ball. Little did we know that one post would generate close to half our blog traffic over the next two years. Y’all must love your cheese balls because you always seem to be searching Google for recipes!

Ever obliging bloggers, Colleen and I want to give our readers what they want – hence, we officially proclaim it cheese ball week here at C+C. We’ll be posting original* recipes throughout the week for you to use for holiday gatherings or to motivate you to develop your own concoction. And if you have any cheese ball recipes you’d like to share, please send them our way! We may publish the recipes and accompanying photos later in the week. So let’s get started…

Potato Chip-Crusted Cheese Ball

Our first featured cheese ball is a little low-brow (no fancy ingredients required) but still delicious. I wanted to create a latke-inspired cheese ball for Chanukah, hence the potato chip crust. And what goes better with potato chips than onion dip? I wasn’t sure how much onion dip mix to use and dumped in the entire packet, but if you don’t want the onion flavor to be quite so strong, I’d use half a packet. Serve with thick-cut potato chips or buttery crackers.

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½-1 packet of Lipton onion soup mix
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup rippled potato chips

Place softened cream cheese into a small bowl and mix in onion soup mix and shredded cheddar with a spatula until thoroughly combined. Shape mixture into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to set shape. When ready to serve, crush the potato chips with your hands (you want large chunks of chip, not tiny pulverized bits) and spread the crumbs onto a large plate. Unwrap the cheese ball from the wax paper and roll in the crushed chips until the ball is completed coated. Enjoy!

* Though we believe our cheese balls to be original, we realize it is possible that someone else has created comparable recipes and we don’t want to appear that we’re stealing recipes. So please take our word that any similarities to already-published recipes are coincidental.

Last week, the Martha Stewart show aired an episode focused entirely on cheese — cheese from Vermont, to be precise. Emeril has been to Vermont recently as well. We’re tickled to see the celebrities discover what we discovered ages ago (you know, way back in August) … namely, that Vermont makes some damn good cheese. So much so that I wore myself out recapping my Vermont road trip and never got around to posting the final installment of my travelogue, our visit to Fat Toad Farm in Brookfield.

I discovered Fat Toad at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival; their rich and creamy goats-milk caramel sauces, made in the tradition of Mexican cajeta, provided one of the sweeter complements to the many samples of cheese on display. Their fresh chevre was refreshingly pure and tangy. As I chatted with Fat Toad’s Josey Hastings, she mentioned that they were located not far off of I-89, our planned route back south to New York. Because of our rush to get to the festival on Sunday (after driving from Virginia to Albany, via Queens, on Saturday) we hadn’t built in much time to visit any farms but hoped to at least stop by one before leaving the state.

Judith Irving and her goat greeters

The next day, we decided to spend some time enjoying Lake Champlain and got a later start back on the road than anticipated. I called the farm and was cautioned that they were beginning evening chores, but would try to give us a quick tour. As we navigated the country roads to the farm, we passed rolling hillside meadows full of dairy cows, including those of Neighborly Farms. It was the sunniest day yet of our road trip and a perfect day to take in the Vermont countryside. When we arrived, Josey had extracted herself from putting up zucchini and graciously gave us the full tour. The quaint farm didn’t take long to navigate, as they are a small, family-run operation with about 40 Alpine and Saanen dairy goats. It was milking time, so we missed out on seeing the goats frolicking in the meadows but got to visit with them as they awaited their turn in the milking chamber.

kissing goats @ Fat Toad Farm

Josey and her family produce most of their own food on their property, including a few pigs (who are fed excess whey, naturally) and fresh produce. The maple for their maple chevre comes from a neighbor. They’ve been making cheese commercially for only about two years, and have clearly developed a winning formula for high quality fresh chevre. The mild cheese can be used as a dip or spread (try on bagels in place of cream cheese), or in recipes like their Fat Toaders’ Caramel Goat Cheese Swirl Brownies.

The caramel sauces come in several flavors, coffee bean, cinnamon, vanilla bean, and original — and if you’re like me and can’t pick just one, you can order a gift box of all four. I bought several for holiday gifts and already gave one away to our hosts in New York; the jury is still out on whether the others will actually be gifted or remain tucked away in my pantry. (Perhaps I’d better order another set to be safe.)

the self-serve farm store

Incidentally, my new secret to the best BLT sandwich you will ever have? A generous schmear of Fat Toad Farm maple chevre in place of mayonnaise.  Pure bliss.

Thank you to Josey and family for allowing us to poke around the farm. We hope to make it back again soon!

Fat Toad Farm
787 Kibbee Rd
Brookfield, VT
802.279.0098 — call now for holiday orders
www.fattoadfarm.com

Save the Date: The 2010 Vermont Cheesemakers Festival will be held in July, Sunday the 25th, back at Shelburne Farms.

Mozzarella-and-tomatoes

Prior to last month, I thought I loved everything about cheese. Turns out I don’t love cheese-making! Curious? Go to Heavy Table to learn about my miserable attempts at making mozzarella at home. There’s a reason why you’ll see me buying my mozzarella at local cheese shops and not slaving away in my kitchen.

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