I’m not sure the cheese ball ever fell out of favor, but it’s certainly back at the center of the table this holiday season.
There was Kinston chef Vivian Howard on a recent episode of her PBS series, “A Chef’s Life,” making a spiced pecan cheese ball rolled in country ham chips. On the show, Howard said, “The cheese ball is so cliché at this point I think it almost stands a chance of being cool again.”
A recent Huffington Post headline screamed: “ Make These Cheese Balls If You Want to Throw a Killer Holiday Party,” with links to 16 recipes. Daytime television star Rachael Ray offered a two-page spread on the “retro-cool party snack” in the November issue of her magazine.
About the cheese ball’s enduring popularity, Bon Appetit food writer Andrew Knowlton wrote in his magazine’s October issue: “Everyone loves a cheese ball. Because it’s cheese! And nuts! In ball form! Best of all, it’s infinitely riffable.”
Knowlton is right. The cheese ball is a blank slate. I came up with a simple bacon blue cheese ball, inspired by my favorite burger toppings. I keep thinking my recipe would be even better with chopped caramelized onions.
Chef Regan Stachler, who owns Little Hen restaurant in Apex, comes by his cheese ball chops honestly. No family celebration is without a cheese ball. His parents came to visit for three days in October for his youngest daughter’s first birthday. They traveled from Florida and his mother, Marsha, packed a cheese ball.
Stachler has two pieces of advice for making a cheese ball. First, it needs to taste like cheese. It cannot just be a ball of cream cheese. Add your favorite soft cheese or shredded cheese. Second, Stachler says, it has to have texture.
You can go the traditional route and cover it with chopped nuts. You can move beyond pecans and walnuts and try crumbled bacon, pistachios, pine nuts or an “everything bagel” seed and spice mix. If you coat the outside with finely chopped herbs, add nuts or chopped red onion to the cheese.
Stachler must be doing something right: the one dish he cannot take off the menu is charred pickled beets with a deep-fried, breaded goat cheese ball.
Here are some more ideas:
Bacon Blue Cheese Ball
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
3 slices crisp bacon, crumbled
3 green onions, white and tender green parts, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
COMBINE cream cheese, blue cheese, crumbled bacon, green onions, butter, salt and pepper together in the bowl of a standing mixer or in a large bowl using a wooden spoon. Mix until well combined. Taste and adjust seasonings.
PLACE toasted, chopped pecans in a pie plate or inside any wide dish with an edge. Use a spatula to bring cheese ball together and form a loose ball. Use hands to mold into a tight ball, roll around in nuts until completely covered. Refrigerate at least three hours before serving with crackers or crostini.
Yield: 24-30 servings.