A Throwback Dish for Generation Graze Board

Cheese ball ingredients
Photo by Katrin Björk

Kirstin Jackson, author if It’s Not You, It’s Brie, expected cheese balls to be served every Christmas and Thanksgiving as a child. She remembers the thrill of getting to enjoy a Port or Cabernet cheese ball, since only grownups could have alcohol.

Cheese balls also bring up memories for Summer Babiarz, a cheese educator and Certified Cheese Professional based in the New York City area.

“When I was little, I used to devour those Port wine-Cheddar cheese balls,” says Babiarz.

When paired with homemade crostini and a dirty martini, your cheese ball might even feel chic.

Whether you’re a longtime fan or new to the sphere, cheese balls are an evocative dish. In a 2016 piece in The New York Times, “To Find Out Who You Are, Peer Into the Cheese Ball,” one woman recounts her European parents saying that cheese balls evidenced how “Americans will never understand food.”

For others, cheese balls invoke nostalgia. “It’s something everybody has a connection to,” writer Kim Severson concludes in the article.

Does Cheese Have Terroir? It Depends.

Cheese balls are perfect for zero-waste kitchens. They don’t have to be fancy, says Jackson, and they’re as tasty as they are practical.

“Cheese balls are also a great way to use those small bits of cheese in your dairy drawer that you keep forgetting about, but are still delicious,” she says.

Jackson says that she’ll use anything “from blue cheese made by my favorite local producer to small bits of grated farmhouse Cheddar that’s no longer sexy enough for a cheese plate.”

Cheese Balls almonds
Single-serving cheese balls can be rolled in toasted almonds / Photo by Katarin Björk

Cheese ball recipes encourage experimentation. To build one around a certain semi-hard or hard cheese, catalog its tasting notes (Google may prove useful here) and think about what might enhance them. Blue cheese goes beautifully with honey, for instance. The grassiness of your favorite Cheddar might be enhanced with chives.

“With so many interesting cheeses available, it’s easy to see that a cheese ball doesn’t have to be stodgy,” wrote Amanda Hesser in a 2003 New York Times feature. “If crème brûlée may be made with star anise, a cheese ball may be flavored with turmeric.”

“Cheese balls are fun and lighthearted, and we should never separate those feelings from food we enjoy.”—Kirstin Jackson, author, It’s Not You It’s Brie

When paired with homemade crostini and a dirty martini, your cheese ball might even feel chic. Other pairings that complement the richness of cheese balls include zesty, mineral-driven sparkling wines.

Most importantly, modern cheese balls should be fun.

“Cheese balls are fun and lighthearted, and we should never separate those feelings from food we enjoy,” says Jackson.

Get the recipe for a modern cheese ball.

Published on March 27, 2021
Topics: Food