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:

Advertisements

The response to the Cheese+Champagne Super Bowl Cheese Challenge was overwhelming! That is, if you consider one submission to be overwhelming. Regardless, we were thrilled that C+C reader Sharla-Jannett Cameron decided to participate by posting her recipe for chili con queso. I made the recipe on Sunday and thought it was quite good, though it cooled rather quickly because I scooped it into a shallow serving dish rather than a deep one.

Chili con Queso

30 g butter (about 2 tbsp)
4 scallions, ends trimmed, finely chopped
1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp pico de gallo
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated cheddar (the sharper the better)
1 tbsp drained sliced  jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the scallions and garlic, and cook for 1 minute or until scallions softens slightly. Add the chili powder and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.

Stir the sour cream into the scallion mixture. Add the cheddar and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes (try not to cook it for longer than 4 to 5 minutes if you can – depending on the cheese it can start to separate) or until the cheddar melts. Stir in the  jalapeño and cilantro. Transfer to a heatproof serving bowl and serve with chips or whatever you’d like.

My one beef with the recipe is that the ingredients list calls for pico de gallo, but the recipe doesn’t say what to do with it. Instead, it includes chili powder. Sharla, perhaps you could let us know which ingredient is correct? Thanks for entering the 2009 Super Bowl Cheese Challenge!

Ubriaco is a beautiful, lyrical Italian word that conjures up images of sunbaked Tuscan hills, lush olive trees and gorgeous vineyards. But what does Ubriaco mean in English? “Drunk.” Yes, this cheese is wears its alcoholic reputation on its sleeve. Is there a better way to say “Happy Valentine’s Day” than by presenting your loved one with a hunk of drunken cheese?

This raw cow’s-milk cheese hails from the Lombardy region of Italy, not Tuscany, where the cows roam the Alpine hills all day. Ubriaco is bathed in Chianti, which gives the rind a rich purple color and the aroma of grape juice. The cheese is then cured in olive oil, and the result is a fruity-tasting, firm cheese with a few tiny holes scattered throughout the interior.

DiBruno Bros. recommends pairing Ubriaco with Merlot, Cabernet or Pinot Noir, and Surdyk’s, where I purchased my cheese, suggests a Pinot Grigio. Ubriaco gives you some flexibility with wine pairings since its young, fruity taste matches with a variety of wines, provided they don’t overpower the cheese.

This Valentine’s Day, serve Ubriaco with a tray of delicious fruits and chocolates. It’s a simple dessert that doesn’t involve hours in the kitchen, leaving more time for celebrating.

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!
And be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest from around the cheeseosphere.

New Year’s Eve was always a particularly fun evening for me, Colleen and our spouses. It typically involved a lot of food and wine and us yelling at whichever teeny-bopper of the moment was featured on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” that year. For our first New Year’s Eve together (2002), the food highlight was the top layer of Colleen and Lou’s wedding cake. The next year is significant for the debut of my (a.k.a. Ina Garten‘s) smoked salmon dip, which was a hit with our guests and my cat. But by the time we got to New Year’s Eve 2004, we found our true calling – fondue. I think it was the idea of our friend Jo, who had lived in Switzerland, and Colleen and I jumped at the chance to make cheese the focus of the festivities. We made two cheese fondues and one chocolate fondue and I think I remember all of them being delicious, but since we went through more bottles of wine that night than we had people at the party, all of our memories are a bit fuzzy.

If you don’t have a menu set for Wednesday night yet, consider fondue. It’s easy to make, everyone gets a kick out of dipping, and you could even make it part of a theme party if your theme is the Swingin’ Sixties. Here’s a step-by-step guide to having a successful fondue:

  1. Ask your cheesemonger for suggestions. Traditional fondue is made with the Swiss cheeses Gruyere and Emmental, which are fantastic, but it’s always fun to mix it up a bit. I went to the Premier Cheese Market yesterday, and the friendly cheesemonger advised me to consider adding Red Dragon or Black Mountain Cheddar. We went with the Black Mountain since its blend of garlic, herbs and white wine was appealing to my garlic fiend of a husband.
  2. Get your proportions right. Your cheesemonger should be able to tell you how much of each cheese to get based on the number of guests. For four people having our Black Mountain fondue, purchase 1/2 lb. each of the Gruyere and Emmental and a 1/4 lb. of the Black Mountain.

    Black Mountain Cheddar with yummy bits of garlic and herbs

    Black Mountain Cheddar with yummy bits of garlic and herbs

  3. Gather your non-cheese ingredients. You’ll want to make sure you have fresh lemons, garlic, cornstarch and white wine (we used a cheap Pinot Grigio from Trader Joe’s) on hand – all four are essential to a great fondue. Traditional fondue recipes often call for Kirsch, a German cherry brandy. I’ve never used it in fondue because I don’t keep any in my liquor cabinet, but if you have some, by all means pour some in. For dippers, you’ll definitely want some crusty bread, preferably cut into cubes ahead of time so they can dry out a bit. Other ideas include boiled new potatoes, baby carrots, broccoli or asparagus.
  4. Start shredding and stirring. Shred all the cheese with a box grater. Heat up your fondue pot (mine is electric, so I just plug it in). Rub the inside of the pot with a cut garlic clove. Add the cheese, the juice of one lemon, three heaping teaspoons of cornstarch and 3/4 cup of white wine (eyeball it). Stir until melted and smooth. Adjust heat as necessary to keep it from boiling.
  5. Enjoy! I made this fondue for my parents, sister and husband last night, and none of them could be considered cheese aficionados. But all of them loved it, so hopefully your group will, too!

For more fondue ideas, check out fonduebits.com or bestfondue.com. Happy New Year!

We know budgets are tight these days, and gourmet cheeses can really make your grocery tab add up quickly. Here are a couple ways to incorporate cheese in your holiday feasts and still have enough money for the Hanukkah brisket, Christmas goose or whatever else is on your menu!

Pick a “showcase” cheese. Odds are you’re serving enough other food for people to fill up on, so you don’t really need to have multiple cheeses. Pick one high quality cheese, centered among spiced nuts and other accompaniments, and pair with a beverage, for a stand-out start or finish to the meal. Try Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor paired with a California sparkling wine for a first course, or a wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano and spiced hot cider for an after dinner treat.

Make cheese a star ingredient. Baked brie – with seasonal cranberry sauce or fig preserves – stretches your cheese dollars and is sure to please a crowd. Or try blue cheese-filled endives, topped with pomegranate seeds (a la Eric Ripert) for festive little bites of cheese.

Look for budget-friendly cheeses. You don’t have to get the most expensive triple-creme cheese from France to wow your family and friends. Look for heartier favorites like a Dutch gouda or aged Irish cheddar – or look for domestic brands, like Cabot/Jasper Hill (Vermont) or Carr Valley (Wisconsin). Tillamook‘s vintage white extra sharp cheddar (Oregon) is a budget-friendly family favorite. A mild, hard cheese like cheddar and gouda will hold up well to a variety of foods and beverages as part of the holiday meal.

Skip the Champagne. Perfectly palatable sparkling wines from California, Spanish cava, or Italian prosecco can be found for $15-30, and will delight your guests when paired with cheese treats. I love Tarantas organic cava ($12.99 at Whole Foods) and have used Trader Joe’s $6 prosecco in pomegranate cocktails that are perfect for Christmas. Sean of Vinifico! recommends Zonin Prosecco Brut NV ($14), and Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre calls Scharffenberger Brut “America’s best bargain bubbly.” (See his blog for more bargain sparkling wine recommendations.)  

Hope your holidays are cheese-filled and merry!