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.

Growing up, New Year’s Eve was the one time a year we got to eat all the processed junk food our little hearts desired, from ready-made French onion dip and Lay’s potato chips to whatever shrink-wrapped meat and cheese goodies my dad got in holiday gift baskets from his colleagues. I don’t believe I ever had a homemade cheese ball, but we did think the Hickory Farms cheese logs and spreads were a nifty treat. (Funny how warped a sense of “luxury food” one develops when raised on a strict healthy-food diet!)

Aside from the low gas prices, dismal economic reports continue to lead the daily news reports. If you’re feeling a little more frugal (late)-Seventies than Swinging Sixties, the retro cheese ball stretches your cheese dollar and is sure to amuse and delight your New Year’s Eve guests. Better yet, cheese balls are best made from a good, traditional cheddar and don’t require a special trip to your local cheesemonger. Apparently, cheese balls are all the rage this holiday season, having been endorsed by Amy Sedaris and Martha herself (link to video clip). A classic recipe requires cheddar, cream cheese, a liquid (Worcestershire sauce traditionally), spices and crushed nuts. The possibilities for variations are endless, but I kept mine simple and used Old Bay for a taste of the Chesapeake. Serve with some mini crab cakes or steamed King crab legs for maximum effect.

Recipe: Chesapeake Cheddar Cheese Ball

Ingredients:
2 cups grated cheddar 
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1/2 cup crushed pecans
* (I used Tillamook to keep with the coastal theme. Had I planned a little more in advance, I would’ve used Chapel’s Country Creamery’s crab spice cheddar, locally-produced on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.) 

Instructions: Mix first four ingredients in mixer until well combined. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour, then shape into a ball and roll in crushed pecans until evenly coated. Wrap and store in refrigerator overnight. Bring to room temperature (at least 30 minutes) before serving. Enjoy!

Of course, you can make your cheese ball as simple or fancy as you please.  Alanna has a round-up of family cheese ball recipes over at BlogHer, including Big Red Kitchen‘s eye-catching Curried Cheese Ball with coconut and peanuts. The Kitchn offers a more gourmet option, a Blue Cheese and Rosemary Ball, or booze it up with this Cheese Truffle recipe from Tillamook. For a sweet option, try (or imitate) a Butterscotch Brickle cheese ball mix

Ringing in the New Year with cheese? Let us know what’s on your menu!
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