The Classic Cheese Ball
I ate a lot this holiday. I mean, I ate alot. My stomach is so distended that I could totally counterfeit my way into a World Vision ad and nobody would challenge my presence. But hey, the holidays aren’t the season for lettuce and sliced cucumber, they’re the season for cookies, gravy, and cheese trays, among other great things.
One party table classic that shows up frequently on party tables, increasingly between Christmas and New Years, is the ubiquitous cheese ball. My sister in law makes a fabulous cheese ‘mouse’ (with the cutest little peppercorn nose and everything!) and I will fully admit that when I’m at her parent’s house, after doing my hellos and hugs, I head straight to the buffet table where I know it will be waiting for me. Oh, savory cheese balls. How I love you so.
If it was possible to sustain body and soul on nothing more than cheese alone, I would do it. Greedily. As it is, I’m less of an omnivore and more of a cheesevore. I’m on a first name basis with the lovely cheese manager (who never leads me astray) at my favorite boutique-style grocery store, and my New Years resolution this year is to visit each of the main 15 – 20 venerable cheese emporiums in the GTA. And then to start running. I figure that those goals will do nicely in tandem.
Because the cheese ball is a versatile crowd pleaser that you know people will dig into, I tend to make them often and with many variations. After all, your only limit is your imagination. My favorite incarnation so far is a cheese beaver that I made for Canada Day a few years ago, who nested in a habitat complete with his (breadstick) dam, (blue corn chip) water feature, and (celery stick) forest. There have been Brie and pesto cheese balls covered in pine nuts, sweeter apricot and almond cheese balls, a wasabi-crab cheeseball rolled in crushed nori flakes, a spicy Mexican cheese ball shaped into a skull for Cinco de Mayo…the list goes on.
Making a cheese ball is easy. You want a soft base cheese (cream cheese, goat cheese, yoghurt ‘cheese’, etc) to bind it and give it body, a flavorful add-in cheese (aged cheddar, parmesan, blue, stilton, etc) for character, and then whatever seasonings, spices, or additions that you like. After the cheese ball is mixed and rolled you can add further flavor and visual appeal by covering it in herbs, spices, seeds and ground nuts, or just about anything else that you like. Again, your only limit is your imagination.
This is my go-to cheese ball. It’s a staple of my repertoire because it’s fast (as all cheese balls are wont to be), easy, and fool proof. In fact, I made this particular recipe three times within the last two weeks, as we hosted and attended various parties and gatherings. It’s a great classic cheese ball, without anything suspicious that would make your meat-and-potatoes friend grimace. The flavors are familiar, but it also has just enough gusto that even a fussier palate can usually be pleased. So, if you feel like going balls-out into your next gathering, why not bring some cheese?
The Classic Cheese Ball
Makes 1 large ball, perfect for a cocktail party
- 8 oz softened cream cheese
- 1 large clove garlic
- 1.5 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp worcestershire sauce
- 4 – 6 dashes Tobasco, or to taste
- 125 g (1.5 – 2 cups when grated) old cheddar cheese
- 25 g (~ 1/2 cup when grated) parmesan
- 2 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp sweet paprika
Make sure that your cream cheese is well softened before you begin, as that will do a lot to save your wrists from the heartache of trying to mash firm, cold dairy. Put the cream cheese into a medium bowl, and add the Dijon, worcestershire sauce (while doing so, you can sing, “Here they come to snuff the wooster, ah yeah yeah, yeah here comes the wooster…” and Alice in Chains would be proud, I promise) and tabasco to taste. Grate or press in the large garlic clove.
Cream together all of the ingredients until it’s a nicely blended mixture.
Finely shred the cheddar and parmesan cheese. I like to use the ‘in between’ holes on my grater for this. It’s not the big side that you usually use to shred cheese, it’s just the next one down from that – but not the small size that you use for grating spices…if that makes sense. Having a slightly finer shred helps things to come together and combine, instead of having a cream cheese mixture with ugly orange cheddar threads that don’t spread nicely onto a cracker with a palette knife.
The cheese will give the mixture a bit more body, and as you stir you will notice that it starts to come together a bit. The mixture is still slightly stiff, so get some elbow grease into it until the whole thing looks uniform.
Cover the bowl with saran wrap and leave it to chill for at least a half hour in the fridge. This will make it much easier to form into a ball, because right now your hot little hands would likely melt the soft mixture and you’d be left with a cheese blob.
Sprinkle the two types of paprika onto a plate, and give them a quick shake or stir until they’re combined.
After the cheese mixture has chilled and firmed up a bit, moisten your hands and form it into a ball. Place the ball on top of the Paprika mixture. You should probably wash your hands before you begin rolling, because they’ll be covered in sticky cheese….but be prepared, because you’re going to have to wash them again in a minute.
If you’re feeling crafty, you can decorate the ball after it’s done by pressing nuts, seeds, or anything else that you like into it. You can also just roll it in paprika as is, and have a lovely red orb. However, I like the simple and clean look that you get from having cut-outs. Simply cut whatever shape(s) you like out of parchment paper and gently press them onto the ball. The cheese will be a bit sticky so they’ll adhere easily. For this ball I did stars, but the previous two had cutouts to make them look like Christmas tree ornaments.
If you’re a bit alarmed by the cut outs (don’t be! It’s dead easy to do, I promise) and just want to roll the ball in paprika, why not stick a cinnamon stick in the top with two bay leaves on either side?That’s way hotter than a candy apple, in my humble opinion.
Roll the ball around in the paprika, gently pressing it on, until every last bit is covered. Any areas that have parchment on them will show through, so you don’t need to worry about losing them in the fray. There will be leftover paprika that doesn’t get used, and you can either discard this (HORRORS!) or make some goulash tomorrow…just saying…..
Oh, and now your hands are orange. Bright orange, in that “I’ve been subsisting on a diet of nothing but carrots for the last five years” kind of way.
Gently peel back the parchment paper cut outs, and your design will be revealed. I actually get embarrassingly excited every time that I do this. It’s like lifting up a magic curtain, even though I know EXACTLY what lies behind. Oh well, small pleasures for small minds, I suppose.
And yes, you can go and wash your hands again. Hey, cleanliness is next to godliness, and cheese balls are next to heaven in my book, so it wall works out.
Serve the cheese ball with an assortment of crackers, crusty bread, or anything else that will stand up to it. I find that this combo also works delightfully well with dried apple chips.
I adore these little stars, even though it gives the bright red cheese ball a slightly Communist look. That’s okay. My mantra is totally CHEESE FOR THE PEOPLE!!!
Smoky paprika, sharp cheddar and parm, garlicky goodness, piquant dijon and savory wooster. Sigh. Some things were just meant to be.