There are recipes that get passed down from generation to generation and others that get passed around from friend to friend. The latter was the case with this cheese ball recipe. My friend Rosie brought a delicious blue cheese ball encrusted in toasted pecans to a dinner party. I loved it and called her the next day for the recipe. She promptly emailed a recipe that had been forwarded to her by her friend Trudy, whose friend Paula had forwarded it to her. Trudy’s request to Paula went like this, “My husband cannot stop talking about your cheese ball…” It was that good.
At the dinner party, Rosie shared with us a story about how a cheesemonger at the grocery store scoffed at her when she mentioned she was looking for blue cheese to make a cheese ball. A cheese ball? Without her even asking for his permission or advice, he went on to recommend other, more high brow cheeses. He cheese-shamed her!
Perhaps you have your doubts, too?
The Original Recipe
Paula’s recipe was perfect and easy: “Combine eight ounces each of blue cheese, mozzarella, and cream cheese. Add a tablespoon of flavorful port or sherry. Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, chill until firm. Toast and chop about ¾ cup of pecans and roll the cheese in the nuts to cover.”
Playing with Add-Ins
Ever since I wrote last week’s post, A Cake for All Seasons, I’ve been thinking about ways to use flavor-building add-ins like herbs, spices, and fruits to see how they would change the way foods taste. It’s a personal journey. Last year’s journey was about self-actualization. This year, it is about pushing my limits creatively.
With that in mind, I considered what fruits and herbs I could add to an already delicious cheese ball to change it up. I love dates stuffed with blue cheese and nuts, so I started there. I tried various nuts and herbs in the empty cavity of the dates, thinking one would be especially good. They were all good! For this recipe, I stuck with the pecans and added dill.
About dates, the food, that is.
Cooks often use dates as a natural way to sweeten foods, especially desserts. Many recipes tend to call for Medjool or Deglet Noor dates. Medjools are sold fresh and can be found in the produce section, while Deglets can be found in the aisle with dried fruits. Both varieties are very sweet, low in fat, and high in potassium, iron, and fiber. Medjools are larger, softer, and moister than dried dates. Deglets have a more delicate flavor, are firmer, and are a little less sweet.
Dates grow on date palm trees in warm climates. They are labor-intensive to grow, and their priciness reflects that.
Reasons to Make a Cheese Ball at Your Next Party:
-The cheeses can be blended 2-3 days ahead if needed. The flavor improves overnight. However, don’t add the toasted nuts and herbs until ready to serve. We want the nuts to remain crunchy and for the herbs to stay bright green.
-The recipe can be cut in half. Or, you could make two small cheese balls and freeze one (but don’t add nuts until ready to serve).
-It can be shaped into a ball, a log, or single-serving cheese pops.
-It may be a good way to use up stray cheeses in the refrigerator. I would make a small bite-sized sample of whatever cheeses you plan to put together to make sure their flavor profile works.
1 cup pecans, chop and then toast
10 pitted dates, chopped (only 7 if using the large, unpitted Medjools)
2 heaping tablespoons, minced dill leaves, from 8 sprigs or 1 package
8 ounces blue cheese (I tried Gorgonzola and would not recommend it)
8 ounces mozzarella
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1-inch chunks for easier mixing
1 tablespoon port or flavorful sherry. I used a tawny port
Serve over crackers, pretzel sticks, or ginger snaps (sweet, but delish!)
Mise en Place:
Chop pecans into small crumbles and toast in a 300º oven for about ten minutes. Watch closely, so they don’t burn. Set pan of toasted nuts aside.
Chop dates into small pieces. Set aside.
Mince dill leaves. Set aside.
Place cheeses and port in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until well mixed. Add the chopped dates and pulse 2 or 3 times more until cheese, port, and dates are just combined. Do not purée!
Use a spatula to scrape the cheese mixture onto a sheet of parchment paper. Wrap the paper around the clump of cheese and shape it into a ball. Refrigerate for an hour.
Remove cheese from the fridge and decide how you want to serve it: one ball, two balls, a log, or as cheese pops. I made about a dozen cheese pops and a traditional cheese ball.
I used a small cookie scoop to shape the balls and then rolled them in the pecan and dill mixture. I used thin pretzels for the sticks.
I formed the remaining cheese into a ball and rolled it in the nuts and dill. I love the colors and texture!
You haven’t lived until you have spread this cheese on a ginger snap. Oh, my goodness! It could be a dessert.
Thank you, Rosie, Trudy, and Paula for sharing the original recipe! xo
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