Tonight’s the night! If you celebrate Christmas, by now your tree should be decorated, your presents wrapped, and your dinner either eaten or bubbling in the oven. If you don’t, you’re likely eating Chinese food (or wishing you were eating Chinese food because your father, the sole Jew on the planet who doesn’t like Chinese food, is visiting). But regardless of your holiday of choice, everyone is welcome to celebrate Cheesemas!

Whatever your plans for the weekend, we hope cheese is part of the menu. Colleen picked up some Oma and Kunik at La Fromagerie today. I’ll be snacking on this delectable Chabichou du Poitou, which I picked up at the Cheese Shop at France 44 this morning. I’m still deciding whether I’ll share with the rest of my family with flutes of Champagne. Ah, I guess I should – that Cheesemas spirit and all.

Colleen and I wish you and yours a very happy holiday! If you taste any out-of-this-world cheeses or get fun cheese-related gifts, please share in the comments section. Merry Cheesemas!

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:

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.

My allusion to the now-famous 15-year Cheddar produced by Wisconsin’s Hook’s Cheese Company a couple of weeks ago occurred before I got the notion to ask my friends Jim and Becca, who have spent the better part of November and December in our home state promoting their fabulous book, to pick up a chunk for me to taste. Alas, by the time they made it back to Wisconsin, it was hard to find this extra-special cheese anywhere in the state. But ever resourceful, Jim and Becca brought me back a tiny sample cup containing two chunks of the Cheddar from one of their book-tour stops, and it made its way safely back to Minnesota to my eager mouth. Was it worth the wait? Oh yes!

This is, quite simply, the best Cheddar I’ve ever tasted, and you know how many Cheddars we’ve tasted over the past year. It’s the epitome of what a Cheddar should be. It is rich, creamy and caramelly with a few tiny crystals thrown in for good measure. Definitely worth its $50/lb. price tag, the 15-year Cheddar should become an award-winning cheese this summer at the American Cheese Society Annual Conference in Seattle. If not, those judges don’t know cheese.

I’m guessing this Cheddar would make a fabulous mac and cheese or grilled-cheese sandwich, but I think it would be a crime to desecrate it by grating and melting. Just carve off little chunks and enjoy with a big red wine.

If you can still find it in your area (as of yesterday, Surdyk’s reported via Twitter that it had 5 lbs. remaining), Hook’s 15-year Cheddar is the perfect holiday gift for the cheese lover in your life. But if you can’t get your hands on it, here are some other last-minute gift ideas:

  • If you know the recipient is a big fan of soft-ripened cheeses, a whole wheel of Brie, Chaource or Camembert makes a great gift, especially when paired with fruit preserves or chutney.
  • Crowd-pleasers like Gouda or Cheddar are always a safe bet. If you’re still uncertain about your cheese choice, revisit our post from last year, with gift advice from Ken Liss, the owner of the recently departed Premier Cheese Market. Ken is also a wealth of information about unusual cheese pairings – my Heavy Table profile of him from last spring may give you some fun ideas.
  • We know y’all love cheese balls because we get a ton of traffic to this blog from people searching for recipes. If you haven’t already, try Colleen’s version with Old Bay seasoning.
  • The gift doesn’t have to be cheese itself. My husband gave me a beautiful marble cheese board for Chanukah this year, and fondue pots are always a hit. Every cheese lover needs a quality set of cheese knives, and babes will look fabulous in Murray’s “little cheese” bibs.
  • And if you still have space on your tree, get one of these adorable cheese ornaments from Sur La Table. They almost make a Jew wish she had a Chanukah bush!

Camembert is one of those cheeses that I should really like, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike it. But out of all of the yummy soft-ripened cheeses available today, it ranks toward the bottom of my list. Shocking, I know, to say such a thing about one of the world’s best-known and lauded cheeses, but it’s true.

True Camembert is made in the Normandy region of France with raw milk, but of course, you won’t find it here in the United States because it isn’t aged long enough to meet our government’s standards. So we get a pasteurized version that purists would probably call an imposter, but unless you’re traveling to France, it’s the best you’re going to get. I haven’t been to France in nine and a half years and I wasn’t crazy into cheese then like I am now, so I’ve never had “real” Camembert and have no basis for comparison. But the pasteurized Camembert I did buy earlier this week just didn’t impress me. Sure, it had the creamy paste I adore, but the rind crumbled into tiny pieces that weren’t very pleasant to the palate. And the taste was more earthy and funky, for lack of a better term, than I typically enjoy in a soft-ripened cheese. Perhaps I didn’t let my wheel sit on the counter long enough (though I think two hours should be adequate), or I got an older wheel, but something tasted off. It wasn’t buttery or grassy, as Artisanal Cheese says it should be.

Of course, I’m not about to let the rest of my 8-oz. wheel go to waste, so I’ll still eat it. I’ll let it sit out for three hours and maybe add some fruity accompaniments. My pregnancy won’t allow me to try Camembert with wine, unfortunately, but Wine Spectator recommends Chardonnay or hard cider from Normandy and Artisanal suggests Cabernet Sauvignon.

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.