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.

It’s the last day of summer and fall is definitely in the air… and at the cheese counters, with cheddar, gouda and washed-rind cheeses settling in. Here’s what we’ve noted recently in the cheeseosphere.

* American cheeses made their first trip to Slow Food Cheese 2009, the biennial celebration of the world’s finest cheeses in Bra, Italy, this past weekend. According to the reports, the Americans were greeted with much enthusiasm and sold out early. Congrats to Rogue Creamery, Cowgirl Creamery, Vermont Butter & Cheese, Uplands Cheese Company (and others?) who were represented. You can see gorgeous cheese pics galore here (though the text is in Italian) or review the full cheese participant list here

* Not Eating Out in New York provides a recap of the Brooklyn Cheese Experiment and includes the recipe for the judges’ first place pick, Bonnie Suarez’s Spicy 3-Cheese Crackers.

* On the Cheese Blogs: The Cheesewench over at Cheese Is Alive recently spent a day at Jasper Hill Farms; check out all that sexy cheese goodness in their cellars! I can almost smell the Constant Bliss through my monitor…

* Fall Cheese Festivals coming up include October 3, The Wedge: Pacific NW Regional Artisan Cheesemakers Festival, in Portland, Oregon; and October 1-3 in the Canary Islands! (Who’s going? We’ll accept guest posts/cheese samples ;-).)

* In the Washington, DC, region — the new FreshFarms Market by the White House features *four* local cheesemakers: Everona Dairy (VA), FireFly Farm (MD), Keswick Creamery (PA) and Clear Springs Creamery (MD). The First Lady’s cheese choice? Camembert from organic-certified Clear Springs; Agriculture Secretary Vilsack opted for their chocolate milk.  The new fall class schedule is up at La Fromagerie; and CulinAerie will host a Cheese 101 class on Oct. 21. Visit our new “DC Cheese” event calendar to stay up-to-date on all the Mid-Atlantic cheese happenings.

* In the Twin Cities, MN, regionSurdyk’s cheese sale continues till Saturday; France 44/St. Paul Cheese Shop is selling Rosh Hashanah sandwiches with local apples, honey and clothbound cheddar or Stilton (yum!). Visit our new “MN Cheese” event calendar to stay up-to-date on all the upper Midwest cheese happenings.

Calling all Cheesemakers: got news to share? email dccheese @ gmail.com to be included in our weekly news highlights.