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!

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On Wisconsin! Yes, it’s the state song, but it’s the also the attitude I hold toward Wisconsin’s blue cheeses. Though blues may not be the first cheeses you think about when you think of America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin is proving itself to be a champion blue-cheese-producing state. I picked up a couple of blues during my jaunt to Madison late last month at the fantastic cheese shop Fromagination (wow, the weight I would have gained in college if this store existed then!) and hope I’ll be able to find them here in Minnesota once my stash runs out.

The first cheese, Ader Käse Reserve from Seymour Dairy Crest, is a particularly creamy and salty blue that takes it cue from German blues by going through an intensive aging process. This pasteurized cow’s-milk cheese is carefully monitored for six months, and the result is a fragrant but not overpowering blue. Port is the no-brainer pairing, and you could echo the cheese’s saltiness by serving it with cured meats or mitigate the tang with a handful of unseasoned nuts and dried fruit.

When my Ader Käse Reserve was being cut and wrapped, the cheesemonger offered me a sample of another local blue, Moody Blue from Roth Käse, and I almost fell over from the sumptuous smoky flavor. Made from local cow’s milk and aged for a minimum of four months, this cheese is smoked over fruit wood, which makes it smell like a campfire and taste like no other blue I’ve had before. It has a much stronger flavor than the Ader Käse Reserve but offers a similar level of saltiness and creaminess. Dark chocolate would be a decadent pairing, while fruit compotes or chutneys would provide a lighter touch. Roth Käse recommends serving Moody Blue with Côtes du Rhône red wines or – if you prefer beer – stout, porter or Belgian Lambic.

Chocolate-goat-cheese-on-shortbread

In honor of National Goat Cheese Month, I sampled a chocolate goat cheese spread available at my local Whole Foods and reviewed it for Heavy Table. If you haven’t already, check it out! The goat cheese is from Wisconsin’s MontChevre and is mixed in store with cocoa butter and cocoa liquor. Paired with a shortbread cookie, it’s a divine dessert.

My cheese this week is one of the oldest artisanal American cheeses, from Vella Cheese Company which was founded in Sonoma in 1931. Tom Vella began aging his Monterey Jack cheeses to produce an alternative to parmigiano and pecorino during World War II, when Italian imports became unavailable. Tom’s son Ig took over the business in 1981, and has earned an “Ark of Taste” designation from Slow Food International as well as recognition for sustainability efforts such as installing solar panels on their historic creamery building. 

Dry Jack is aged 7 to 10 months, developing a smooth flavor and hard, flaky texture. It is creamy and a little sweet, slightly nutty like pecorino. While it is coated in cocoa and black pepper, giving it a unique brown exterior, those flavors are undetectable in the cheese. It would pair nicely with dark chocolate for dessert, though. It is also ideal for grating over pasta, in alfredo sauce or just snacking on its own. I enjoyed it with a Dashe 2006 Zinfandel from nearby Dry Creek Valley

Have you had enough French blue cheeses this week? I hope not because we’ve got one more – Fourme d’Ambert – and it’s an oldie but goodie.

Production of this raw, cow’s-milk cheese reportedly dates back to Roman times, and its appearance does bring about a vision of ancient, craggy rocks, I suppose. Fourme d’Ambert’s crumbly texture and blue molding make look unappealing to non-blue lovers, but it’s a fantastic cheese to try even if blue isn’t your thing. It has a distinctively blue taste but is still easy on the palate, and I love the way the cheese coats the mouth without becoming too overwhelming. Fourme d’Ambert would be wonderful crumbled on a salad, but try it as part of your dessert course with some dark chocolates.

You won’t go wrong pairing Forume d’Ambert with a port, but other wines are just as suitable. Artisanal Cheese recommends a sweet Sauternes if the cheese is serving as your dessert. Other suggestions (fr0m Fromages.com) include Vouvray, Côte d’Auvergne or Banyuls.

Still unsure about playing matchmaker with cheese and chocolate? Check out the great article on cheese and chocolate pairings in this week’s Serious Cheese column.

Chocolate and cheese may seem like an unlikely combination, but a good, bittersweet chocolate can be a perfect complement to a rich, creamy cheese. These handmade truffles from Lillie Belle Farms in Oregon contain the Rogue Smokey Blue I wrote about previously, and are rolled in crushed toasted almonds to complement the nutty, smoky flavor of the cheese. Luscious and pungent, these are truly divine. Lille Belle uses only organic and fair trade ingredients, and has quite a few other enticing flavors.