Before the bloomy rinds, the washed rinds and the blues, there was my mom's orange cheese ball (always made a day in advance to let the flavours "set" – and rolled carefully in thinly sliced green onion for added panache when serving). Add some Ritz crackers and I might not even notice the Long Clawson Stilton and port sitting on the holiday table.
The cheese ball, however, is not a relic of vintage cookbooks – it now has its own Pinterest following. Rising to popularity in the 1920s, the cheese ball's assets will never go out of style – it can be retro cool or comfortingly nostalgic, it's simple to make and always tasty. From Tex-Mex styles to recipes that include sliced smoked beef (I draw the line at mixing in meat), the cheese ball has many iterations – it shows up rolled in nuts (crushed pistachio, toasted flaked almond, chopped walnut) or herbs (parsley, basil or cilantro), even chopped olives and crumbled bacon (I might be swayed by the bacon).
Though the heart of a cheese ball is cream cheese and shredded cheddar, you can easily customize by changing up the cheeses: Try using smoked cheddar or smoked Gouda, add some fresh chèvre or a half cup of blue cheese to the mix. Use your favourite fromage from the farmers' market or cheese co-op. Drizzle in some hot sauce, Worcestershire, Dijon mustard or your beloved barbecue sauce. Finely diced red onion adds a great crunch, and a tablespoon of your favourite chutney can't hurt either (nor would a drop or two of your favourite wine or spirit).
If this all sounds like fun (and hey, I can do this even after a few drinks!), it is. Because starting with the basic recipe below you just add, taste and adjust as you go. And if you do nothing else to it – other than use the best cheese you can find – it will still be great. Trust me, I grew up on this one.
Cheddar Cheese Ball
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
3 cups lightly packed grated aged cheddar, white or orange
¼ cup full-fat sour cream
½ tsp salt
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon grainy mustard (optional)
½-3/4 cup finely chopped green onion (white and green, whole stalk)
Using an electric mixer or food processor combine all the ingredients till smooth. The mixture should be dense enough to form a ball and hold its shape. If needed you can thin with a bit of liquid such as milk, cream or wine. Taste and season if needed.
Using your hands, roll into a ball (or make two smaller balls). Don't try to do this on a surface, just shape it in your palms – slightly damp fingers make it less sticky.
On a plate or cutting board, roll the cheese ball in the green onions till evenly coated. Place on serving tray. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving (or at least one hour to firm up slightly).
Can be made 24 to 28 hours in advance.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.