Modern spin on cheeseballs
MICHELLE Buffardi knew the cheese ball was in serious need of reinvention.
Most of us are probably familiar with pre-made cheese balls that don’t exactly taste like real cheese, or old-school recipes calling for old-school cheeses that are increasingly hard to find. (This time every year, my mum embarks on her annual hunt for jars of Kraft Roka Blue and Old English shelf-stable cheeses, which few stores carry anymore, for her favourite cheese ball.) But Buffardi, a cheese lover and food writer in New York who recently published Great Balls of Cheese, knew there was a better way.
“I wanted to have the flavours and accoutrements that people expect but made with real cheese,” she says. Softened cream cheese is the best base because it’s readily available and somewhat neutrally flavoured, but goat cheese is another good option.
From there, you can add harder and stronger flavoured cheeses, such as cheddar, mozzarella or Manchego, which when shredded also add stability to the final ball.
After you build a cheese base, the sky’s the limit for what ingredients you can add next. Buffardi makes several balls inspired by real-world dishes, like a pepperoni pizza ball. In all, she came up with 50 recipes for her book, which came out in October 2013.
Good cheese balls have a variety of complementing ingredients, but great cheese balls have a mix of textures, too. Raw onions work, but not everyone loves them. (Buffardi suggests caramelising the onions if you’re not a fan of raw or are looking for totally different flavour.) For a salty crunch, Antonelli suggests rolling the cheese ball in crushed snack almonds, and Buffardi uses everything from crushed pretzels and graham crackers to broken tortilla chips and shredded carrots.
The longer the ball sits, the more the flavours come together, Buffardi says, which can be a bad thing if you add too much of a pungent ingredient, such as garlic or dill. In general, making the ball a day before you plan to serve it allows the flavours to meld just enough to please guests.
When it comes time to serve, crackers and pita chips are the obvious choices, but Buffardi also suggests raw vegetables like you’d serve on a relish or crudité plate or toasted slices of baguette or, if you’re serving a sweet cheese ball, cookies, fruit or graham crackers. In her book, she recommends a specific food to pair with each ball.
As a recipe developer, Buffardi knows that the flavours in the cheese balls had to come first, but she wasn’t wedded to the ball shape.
She started out by making a cheese ball in the shape of a snowman, but that was just the start. “I thought, ‘If a snowman works, what about a Christmas tree-shaped cheese ball that you could cover in herbs?’” she says. “It doesn’t have to be so uptight all the time.” That’s where the cute and sometimes silly shapes in the book come from: the eye-catching owl that graces the book’s cover, chicks for Easter, footballs for the Super Bowl, baseballs for Opening Day, a hedgehog, penguin, cat and an eight-ball for everyday fun.
So, why are cheese balls so popular during the holidays? Buffardi says it’s a tradition rooted in convenience. They are easy (and relatively inexpensive) to make, easy to transport for parties and easy to serve.
Plus, even people who think they can’t cook can make them and bring them to a potluck or get-together.
Even if it’s not in the shape of an ornament-studded Christmas tree, it’s certainly more memorable than a bottle of wine. – Austin American-Statesman/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services