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Cheese balls – a tasty treat
January 21, 2018, 5:39 pm

Traditional cheese balls are a mixture of cream cheese, grated semi-soft or semi-firm cheese whipped smooth with a few added flavorings, which are then shaped into a ball of about four inches in diameter and rolled in nuts. With crackers, carrot sticks, and celery, they serve the same function as the crudité platters of cut veggies with dip that have commanded parties since the early '80s.

In many ways, a cheese ball isn't even a recipe; it's a concept with four directions. What makes a cheese ball so versatile is that you can quite literally change almost every element and still be good to go.

What cheese to use for a cheese ball

When it comes to the creamy component, cream cheese is the classic foundation, and it works incredibly well. As in any dish with a few ingredients, the quality of what you use becomes vital, so pick the best cheese you can afford. You will be stretching any pricey cheese or flavorings with inexpensive cream cheese, which helps keeps this dish both special and doable on most budgets.

The single trick to getting a cheese ball to work well is that every ingredient must be at room temperature. Soft, warm cheeses become integrated into a single flavor, with a new texture and aroma that simply cannot occur if you start with cold ingredients. Set the cream cheese and cheeses out on the counter for about an hour before you start and you will be problem-free.

For the base cheese: Cream cheese is our first choice for its firm texture and mild creaminess. It creates a base so handy that it is easy to make the mixture into whatever you want. With the addition of one or two ingredients, the base is made firmer and shaped into a sculpture (think football or snowman, not three-foot swan) or softer (think dip). It's easy to make, easy to modify, and easy to fix.

If you feel adventuresome, try mascarpone, quark, neufchatel, creamy feta, soft goat cheese, or fromage blanc as an alternative base to the cream cheese.

The second cheese: Once you have the base set, you can get crazy with the second cheese. As long as it's not a grating cheese or crumbly, like Parmesan or cotija, it'll work.

How long to leave cheese out

Don't leave cream cheese out more than about two hours unrefrigerated, but the second cheese can sit out for about four hours; just keep them all covered and away from a hot stove or running dishwasher.

Topping Your Cheese Ball

A good cheese ball is a study in texture. You want to create contrast between the smooth, creamy interior and the chewy add-ins. Things like crunchy bacon, crackers, and roasted nuts are all ideal toppings. Mince your toppings — they should be pretty small so they are easily incorporated into the cheese as it spreads.

Cheese balls keep extraordinarily well as long as you do not roll them in the outer topping until just before serving. Wrapped in plastic and then foil, a cheese ball will keep for up to a week, making it a great nibble to have on hand during party season or any random get-together.


Your cheese ball is too runny: Once you have added all the extras, and it's all mixed in well, if the texture is more salad dressing-like than something you might spread on a bagel, you can tighten it up easily by adding unsalted butter, one tablespoon at a time, mixing before you add more. You could also add more cream cheese, but it will not solidify the ball once it's chilled as well as the butter.

You added too many ingredients: If you add too many things like fruits and meat, add 3 tablespoons of cream cheese plus 1 teaspoon butter at a time and mix very well and taste. Still not quite right? Go one more round and add a teaspoon of the liquid flavoring, 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire along with 3 tablespoons of cream cheese and mix very well. This will help you retain the backbone flavors.

Process the cream cheese: Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Alternatively, use a handheld electric mixer and large bowl. Process or beat until light and fluffy in texture, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Process the cream cheese: Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. (Alternatively, use a handheld electric mixer and large bowl.) Process or beat until light and fluffy in texture, 30 second to 1 minute.

Mix in the second cheese: Add the grated cheese and process or beat for 30 to 45 seconds. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl. It should be very smooth and completely combined. If it is not, process or mix another 30 seconds.

Mix in the liquid flavoring: Add the garlic, lemon juice, and Worcestershire. Process or beat until the mixture is completely smooth, there no lumps or bits, and the mixture is a thick and fluffy, 1 full minute or more. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl.

Mix in any optional ingredients: Add any combination of add-in flavorings and process or beat until the mixture reaches the desired texture.

Correct the texture if necessary: If the mixture has become runny, like salad dressing or yogurt, add 1 tablespoon room temperature butter at a time and process or beat until completely incorporated, fully processing or beating between each addition.

Scoop the mixture into a mound: Place a large piece of plastic wrap about 12 by 16 inches on a work surface. Using an ice cream scoop or a large spoon, transfer the mixture into a mound in the center of the plastic wrap.

Shape it into ball using plastic wrap: Lift up 2 opposite sides of the plastic wrap and cover the sides of the cheese mixture. Place your cupped hands against the plastic wrap, and gently press the mixture into a round. Lift up the remaining plastic, one piece at a time, and cover all sides of the cheese round. Shape it into a ball. Collect all the plastic pieces at the top and twist them together, creating a bundle that looks like a tied sack or pouch.

Wrap in foil and refrigerate: Wrap the plastic-wrapped cheeseball completely in aluminum foil and shape again with your hands. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 6 days.

Coat the outside: Before serving, pour the coating into a rimmed baking sheet, roasting pan, or 9 by 13-inch baking dish and spread into an even layer. Remove the cheeseball from the refrigerator, unwrap completely, and place on the topping. Gently roll to coat, or using a spoon, scoop the coating over the top. Pat the sides and top well to ensure a full coating.

Serve the cheeseball: Place the cheeseball on a serving tray or platter, with a selection of sturdy, cut vegetables, thick crackers or pita chips, clusters of grapes, and a few dried figs (cut open). You can opt for a mid-century style side dish, toast points, which are simply pieces of great-quality toast slices with the crust cut off. Set out 2 or 3 small cheese knives or butter knives for spreading, plenty of napkins, and serve.



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