The cheese ball is Rodney Dangerfield’s playground for the culinary world. He gets no respect.
Legend has it that the first cheese ball was given as a gift to President Thomas Jefferson by farmer Elisha Brown Jr. She weighed 1,235 pounds.
Fortunately, today’s cheese balls are more consumer friendly.
The country’s leading producer of cheese balls and cheese logs is located in our own backyard. Kaukauna Spreadable Cheese, a division of Bel Brands, based in Little Chute, will ship 8.54 million cheese balls by the end of the year. With offerings like double sharp port wine, pepper jack, blue cheese, and smoked bacon, this instant cheese ball appetizer is nothing but a supermarket stop.
But this holiday season, consider making your own. Homemade cheese balls are easy to make, and they can be prepared in advance.
Preparing cheese balls can also be a family affair; It makes the perfect culinary starter project for young chefs. There is little actual cooking (bacon is the only ingredient in today’s recipes that need to be cooked), and knives skills are kept to a minimum.
To kick off the holiday season, I gathered a few aspiring young chefs to help me out with some inventive cheese balls. We’ve handled everything from making cheese balls and pinecones to edible mice.
First, on our cheese ball menu had something to please the two young men who were recruited into my project, most likely against their will.
The ultimate pigskin cheese ball proved to be the perfect project for young chefs White Pewdoo and Copper Cole, especially since they are fans of the different NFL teams.
A simple mixture of cream cheese and shredded white cheddar cheese is mixed with green onions, fresh herbs, spices, and garlic to make the base for the soccer ball.
Then the cheese is shaped into a football.
And what’s the final touch? Bacon, of course. Crumbled cooked bacon gives your edible soccer ball the pigskin look and taste that many soccer fans live for. Slices of white cheddar cheese form soccer ties.
On Chef Lily Krause’s training schedule were miniature cheese rats.
An easy base of cream cheese flavored with chopped shallots and a touch of Dijon mustard can be made in a bowl or with an electric mixer.
Divide the cheese mixture into 12 ovals and refrigerate until firm.
When you’re ready to serve, complete the mice with olive-black eyes and mouths and almond slivers for the ears. Fresh chives create the final touch – mouse tail.
Now it’s time for the adults to take charge. For a more elegant presentation of the cheese balls, I chose an edible pine cone. With the help of Cooper’s mother, Debbie, she used whole roasted almonds to give the look the signature. Place the finished pinecone on a bun base with fresh greens underneath, and you’ve made the perfect holiday appetizer piece.
The final cheese ball project wasn’t a ball at all; It was a log format. Add dried fruit with your favorite liqueur, goat cheese for some sophistication, nuts like ground pistachios or almonds for a crunch and fresh herbs like mint or basil. Served with fresh fruit and crackers, the Drunken Fruit Cheese Log is a fun addition to a dessert buffet.
Although the cleanup took a while, the cheese ball experience proved to be a fun afternoon. Young chefs have enjoyed experimenting with their ultimate cheese ball creations, with the exception of Wyatt.
White was not a fan of onions, nor was he interested in mice or the pigskin soccer. However, he was a fan of bacon.
As I was packing to leave Coles’s kitchen, White told me he didn’t like any of the cheese balls (you have to love baby honesty). However, he did say that I am a “good bacon cook”.
Good cooker bacon? This is a title I will cherish forever.
Cheese Ball Basics
Give your technical and culinary skills a workout this holiday season by making your own unique cheese ball. Here are some of the basics.
Cream cheese is the base for most cheese balls. Soft and malleable, the soft cheese blends perfectly with other ingredients. For a less rich cheese, substitute low-fat cheese or Neufchatel cheese.
Make sure the cream cheese is at room temperature so it’s easy to handle. Hard cheeses don’t need to be at room temperature and actually work better cold if they’re grating or cutting.
Add additional types of cheese for more flavor. Crumbled blue cheese, white or yellow cheddar cheese and gouda are good choices. The grated cheese is easy to incorporate into the cream cheese base. An electric mixer makes it easy to mix all the ingredients together.
Choose your flavor ingredients
Texture and flavor can be added with bacon, cooked pancetta, or dry salami, cut into small pieces. Finely chopped shallots or green onions and fresh herbs are other good options.
Sweet cheese balls can be highlighted with sweeter cheeses such as mascarpone and montrechette. Dried fruits, finely chopped, as well as nuts such as chopped pistachios, almonds or hazelnuts work well.
A favorite alcoholic beverage can also be added, but don’t be too generous. All you need is a teaspoon or two. Too much cheese will get wet and difficult to handle.
Shaping and coating
Shape the cheese into a ball or stem. Using plastic wrap to help shape the shape makes the process less messy.
Place the cheese ball in the refrigerator for 2 hours or overnight before finishing with a final layer. Ground nuts, whole nuts (like almonds for a pine cone) and even finely chopped fresh herbs work to coat the cheese balls.
Avoid decorating the cheese ball too long in advance. The nuts will lose their brittleness if they are cooled over the finished cheese ball.
Cheese balls all year round
Although cheese balls are often thought of as a holiday appetizer, they can be enjoyed year-round. Real cheese ball lovers celebrate April 17th: National Cheese Ball Appreciation Day.
Terri Milligan is a professional chef and cooking instructor who lives in Door County. Contact her through her website, chefterrimiligan.com.