Citizens, your dear Leader – the always fashionable TFD! – is inordinately fond of some truly kitschy recipes, not the least of which is the humble cheese ball! A throwback recipe from the golden age of food kitsch during the fifties through the early seventies, this deserves a renewed place of honor on your appetizer board, especially made as TFD does! 😀
As noted in a NY Times story:
In its purest form, a cheese ball is a mixture of sharp shredded cheese like Cheddar or blue, blended with cream cheese and, often, butter. It’s usually seasoned with anything in the allium and capsicum (pepper) families, then rolled in a mixture of nuts and herbs. It’s great spread on crisp, plain crackers and goes really well with a drink.
December is the Olympics for cheese ball fans. The treats populate dairy cases in many parts of the country in flavor varieties that rival their brethren in the ice cream case. Sharp Cheddar and port wine may be the standard-bearers, but things can get crazy out there in cheese ball land.
Cheese balls seasoned with Worcestershire sauce and rolled in chopped dried beef from Buddig, a popular supermarket brand, are big at Ohio potlucks, Ms. Davis said. In Texas, a jalapeño-bacon cheese ball is often on the cocktail party buffet. Williams-Sonoma offers a recipe for a Cheddar cheese ball smoothed with mayonnaise, flavored with smoked paprika and rolled in poppy seeds.
There are cheese ball recipes engineered to taste like Buffalo chicken wings, Hawaiian pizza, bruschetta and an everything bagel with a schmear. They are formed into turkeys with pretzel sticks for tails, or into pine cones with whole almonds for the scales. Cats, owls, footballs: The cheese ball is a blank canvas for both the home craftmaker and the satirist.
The comedian and writer Amy Sedaris elevated cheese ball kitsch to an art form when she made her Lil’ Smoky Cheese Ball with a smoked Gouda and steak sauce on Martha Stewart’s show several years back. She featured the recipe in her 2006 book “I Like You: Entertaining Under the Influence,” and she and her brother, the writer David Sedaris, even wrote a play titled “The Book of Liz” that centers on a woman from an Amish-like sect whose cheese balls sustain the community. It inspired The New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley, who reviewed the play in 2001, to open with the line, “Isn’t it wonderful what a nimble set of hands can do with a simple cheese ball?”
To truly understand the cheese ball, one has to dig into its roots. There you will find cold-pack cheese, also known as club cheese or crock cheese, which began as a snack in Wisconsin taverns and supper clubs around the turn of the last century.
Taking a cue from British and Scandinavian cooks, whose culinary traditions included packing odd bits of cheese ground with seasonings and perhaps a little alcohol into jars or crocks and preserving it with a layer of butter, tavern owners worked cheese and cream together to make a spread that unlike its later cousin, processed cheese, did not require heat to blend. It went well with beer. Club owners sometimes packed it into crocks to give to customers as gifts, according to the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
From the bar stool sprang an industry that grew to include cheese balls and logs. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that almost 40 million pounds of processed cheese is produced each year, with Wisconsin accounting for 77 percent of it.
With its Cheddar tang and unchallenging pleasure spread across a buttery Town House cracker, cold-pack cheese was a muse to Brett Kell, who wrote about his first taste in the magazine Edible Milwaukee.
“I remember it like one remembers a first kiss, first joint or first shot of liquor,” he rhapsodized. “Totally foreign, slightly confusing, and worth another taste.”
There are other indications of a cheese ball revival. In 2013, Michelle Buffardi, a Martha Stewart Living alumna, published “Great Balls of Cheese,” with more than 50 recipes on the theme, both sweet and savory. MplsStPaul Magazine declared 2016 “the year of the cheese balls” in an article by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, who posited that the dish is the North’s answer to Southern pimento cheese, which has been enjoying something of a star turn itself.
My version of this classic and ridiculously simple recipe eschews the use of the dreaded ‘cold pack cheese food’ of yore and specifies only top-quality cheeses, ranging from Stilton to Cheddar and Fiore Sardo! Throw in bacon, bourbon, Tabasco and more and you have one hell of a delicious appetizer, Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
The Hirshon Cheese Ball
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