I never thought I was the kind of person who would make a cheese ball. I don’t know what that person looks like per se. But I envision it is someone crafty … with a fingerprint-free kitchen … or perhaps a dining room covered in muted plaids. I do not fit into either of those scenarios very nicely. If we are being technical, I don’t even have a dining room.
Despite this, I admit I am someone who really takes to a good holiday cheese ball. Yes. Even those neon salmon port wine orbs. I don’t officially know who subscribes to that sort of cheese philosophy, either. But I want in.
My family used to own a grocery store called Sweetheart Market. Around Christmas, we would get holiday gifts from the venders. And if I reach deep into my sack of ‘80s holiday nostalgia, this included the Friendly’s Jubilee Roll. Fruitcake. And a basket of cheese curds, plus electric-colored, nut-covered balls of cheese product.
As I type, I am realizing I may have developed a misplaced drive to recreate these holiday items. I made a new-ish version of an old fruitcake recipe around this time last year. In kind, this cheese ball gets its inspiration from an early 19th century recipe for “pounded cheese” from Sturbridge Village.
I took a hearth cooking class there a few months ago and the cheese was my kitchen chore. It is fairly self-explanatory. You take a few kinds of dairy and pound them, with some spirits and spices.
If you lived in Old Sturbridge Village you might say something like:
“The piquance of this buttery, caseous relish is sometimes increased by pounding with it curry powder, ground spice, cayenne pepper, and a little made mustard; and some moisten it with a glass of sherry.”
When I tasted it, it reminded me of the port wine cheese from my childhood.
Whether rounded, or pounded, or neon, this sort of thing is seemingly hard to refuse. Apparently, the cheese ball takes all kinds.
Old Sturbridge Hazelnut Cheese Ball
2 generous cups of grated cheese (I like a mildly aged cheddar and parmesan)
2 tsp English mustard (such as prepared Coleman’s) or Dijon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 to 2 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp sherry
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, softened
splash of cider (optional)
about ¾ cup hazelnuts, crushed
In a large bowl, place the cheese, mustard, spices, sherry, and half the butter. Begin to mash all your ingredients with the end of a rolling pin or muddler until it comes together; taste and add the remaining butter and cider (if using) until the desired taste is achieved.
The cheese should ultimately be the consistency of an aforementioned port wine spread. Roll the mass into a ball. (Wax paper helps.) Place the crushed hazelnuts into a small bowl and then roll the cheese ball in the nuts until the outside is covered. If necessary, place in the fridge to chill until it hardens a bit (about 30 to 60 minutes).
Makes 1 cheese ball
-Serve with fresh bread. It strikes me now that celery might be a nice accompaniment too. Possibly apple slices. Possibly.
-All the ingredient amounts are approximate. The blending of flavors will depend on the types of cheese you select, as well as your breed of spices. Taste as you go and you’ll be able to adapt it to your preference. This recipe doesn’t stray far from the original, minus the hazelnuts and ball form.
-I seem to prefer roughly 2/3 cheddar to 1/3 parmesan but, again, this is a nice dish to experiment with. The Sturbridge recipe specifies assorted hard sharp cheeses.
-You can also crush the hazelnuts with a rolling pin.