Monday, December 29, 2014

Grandma's Cheese Ball with Julie

Watch out Julie, there are some very hungry humans who want a shot at that cheese ball!

And wrapping up this year's holiday features is a family favorite recipe that I, personally, have never really been into, but has been a staple of our Christmas and end of year holiday traditions for at least fifty years. The cheese ball is an appetizer that has almost taken on a ritualistic importance to us, something that's hoarded from outsiders and devoured almost as soon as it's put on the table. We're like vultures, circling the coffee table and diving in as soon as this gooey wonder is put on the table. It can be spread on pretty much any kind of cracker or bread, and I know some people who would argue it tastes just fine even if you just want to take a spoonful of it and go to town. This is the one thing everyone agrees needs to be on the menu at Christmas, and there might be riots if it wasn't served at some point.

According to everyone else, anyway. Again, I'm the outlier in my family, because this particular treat doesn't do too much for me.

But that doesn't change that it's an important part of our holiday traditions and has been for way longer than I've been alive, so when I was thinking of what else I wanted to do this holiday season on the blog, I knew this had to be one of the features. It was fun to go back and discover the origins of such a popular family treat and learn how to make it myself, just in case it's a tradition I want to continue years down the line. And who knows? Tastes change. Maybe I'll become a cheese ball convert after all!


We have a lot of Christmas traditions that come from my mom's side of the family. Every Christmas Eve, my mom reads my sister, brother and I The Night Before Christmas from a pop up book my grandma used to read her and her brother as children, we do an Advent wreath every Sunday leading up to Christmas, and we used to even do a couple different fish courses in the Italian tradition as Christmas Eve dinner, even if we didn't go all out like some other families do. A couple of these traditions have faded as we've gotten older - although we still read the book, the menu for Christmas Eve dinner has been tweaked to make it less stressful to make - but one of them that hasn't gone anywhere and probably never will is the cheese ball.

My grandma was first introduced to the cheese ball by her long time friend in the 60's, and it's been a mainstay of family functions and parties during the holiday season pretty much ever since. Even their old corgi used to be a fan of the cheese ball, although McDuff was a fan and thief of most people food, including tomatoes.


It's a pretty straight forward if slightly messy to make treat, and doesn't require using a microwave, oven or stove top. You can make it any time of year, but for us, it's something we really only have at Christmas, the same way we seem to only have my grandfather's mashed turnips at Thanksgiving. Isn't it strange how certain recipes seem to be assigned a certain season, despite not necessarily being seasonal?

The recipe itself has been tweaked some over the years. Originally, it called for chopped onions to be added in with the three different cheeses and for chopped parsley to be added to the outer coating, but my grandmother eventually abandoned those after doing it that way for a couple years. The simpler recipe just tasted better, and omitting the two other ingredients did make it less work at the end of the day.

Since this is a cheese ball, it stands to reason that your primary ingredient is cheese. This cheese ball - which is more properly a cheese spread, shaped like a ball - uses cream cheese, cheddar cheese and blue cheese as its base. You want to use six ounces of blue cheese, six ounces of processed cheddar cheese spread, and twelve ounces of cream cheese, along with one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. This gives it an extra kick and is definitely necessary for completing the dish.

The cream cheese and Worcestershire sauce help make the cheese easier to mix together, but with this much in one bowl, it definitely required a little bit of arm work. You want your cheese to have body, so while you can definitely adjust the Worcestershire sauce to taste, be careful not to add, say, several cups of it in.


While you're mixing the cheese, set aside some maraschino cherries on a paper towel in a bowl to drain the excess liquid off them.


After you've got the cheese mixed, it's time to chop the walnuts to create the coating for the ball. You don't want to chop the walnut too finely, otherwise you're left with more dust and not enough crunch, but you also don't want to have a whole walnut jammed on there.

Once you've got the nuts ready to go, put them in a shallow dish or bowl and use an ice cream scooper to get about a baseball sized ball of cheese out of your mixture. You can shape it into more of a ball with your hands if necessary. This then gets rolled in the nuts, pressing firmly enough to make sure the walnuts are shoved in the cheese, but not hard enough that they're inside the cheese ball, leaving the outside sticky and cheesy.


Once you've got your ball formed, set it out on a square of cling wrap large enough to fully cover the whole cheese ball, and smush a cherry into the top of the cheese ball. Wrap it up, and you're almost ready to transport them!


The doubled recipe makes about eight baseball sized cheese balls, and four softball sized cheese balls. My grandma likes to bag them up as well as wrap the cling wrap around them just to make sure they're safe in transport and there aren't any accidents with the cheese getting smooshed out of the wrapping and getting all over your car or purse or other food you're bringing to the get together.


If you don't eat your cheese ball immediately, it should be stored in the refrigerator and can be kept for a few days. Not too long, though, and in my house, they tend not to last long after they've been made. We made this batch maybe three or four days before we served the big one on Christmas Eve.


There's an ongoing joke in our family that everyone should be issued their own personal cheese ball to eat like a pear, something I've always recoiled a little from even in jest, but I think that really speaks to just how much most everyone else in my family likes this. Not only is it nostalgic, it's tangy and has good texture from the walnuts. The blue cheese and cheddar combination is also a particular hit with several members of the family. When I asked my sister for more specific information about what she liked about the cheese ball, all she did was yell "cheese!!" over and over again, until she finally amended that it's easy to spread on crackers and she likes the crunch of the walnuts.

(My sister is twenty one.)

So from all of us at A Peek Into the Pantry to you, hope you had a nice holiday (whatever you celebrate, whenever you celebrate, whyever you celebrate), and next time you're looking for an appetizer or tasty snack, definitely think about giving this one a try. I've been enthusiastically reassured that you won't regret it!

Quick Julie, before someone shoves you out of the way!

13 comments:

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    1. Who knew it would take the cheese ball to get you to read my blog??

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  2. !!! My mother makes one very similar to this, except she rolls it in paprika instead of walnuts, since one of her daughters (Pick me, pick me!) has a nut allergy. It's sooooo good though!

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    1. Ooh, that's a really cool idea! I'd never heard of one made that way before. Definitely might be worth checking out, especially if it comes with a good recommendation.

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  3. *From Julie's doll mom, Sharry:*

    Ah yes, the cheese ball, and the cheese log. I remember seeing variations of this recipe in "Family Circle" magazine growing up.The most common one I saw was covered w/ sliced almonds. And since I'm a 70s child (Like Julie), I had that same Pop-up Night Before Christmas book as a kid. My cousin ripped some of the pieces like the father pushing up the shade, and Santa flying over the house. I bought a re-issue of it in the '80s and still have it today. And for the record, I LOVE cheese!

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    1. Funny you mention the almonds! I make mine at Halloween and use slivered almonds to mimic an owl's feathers after sculpting my "ball" into a flattened owl shape. (Use ends of olives for the owl eyes but the rest gets covered in the slivered almonds). I always have to be the first one to cut it though - everyone says it's too pretty. I say, it's cheese! It must be eaten!

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    2. @Sharry: This is actually our second copy of it too, for exactly the same reasons! Pop up books just don't hold up too well to enthusiastic kids, haha. I'm not sure when we bought our replacement though, I remember the tattered one being used relatively recently.

      @Nonna: That sounds so cute! I might have to suggest that for Halloween this year, might get people other than me excited to celebrate it.

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  4. You know, I've seen cheese balls at the seasonal Hickory Farms booths but I'd never realized that people make them at home too... Good to know!

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    1. The Hickory Farms ones were what actually inspired this! I can't believe I forgot to mention that in the post itself, haha. I think it was something like they bought one one year and didn't think it was as good as it used to be, and then looked for an alternative. My grandma's friend found this recipe, and the rest was history!

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  5. Delicious! Brings back memories. Happy New Year!!

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    1. Happy New Year! Hope yours is going well. :)

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  6. It was fun reminiscing with Julie! I'm glad you had a chance to get some of the history of Gramma's famous cheese ball. Wishing you happy cooking in the New Year!

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    1. Thank you! We definitely need to find some more family recipes to pull out and showcase - I'm sure Dad wouldn't mind us doing manicotti someday!

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