In my mind, a holiday gathering isn’t complete without a cheese ball. Creamy cheese spread on crackers – what’s not to love?
Here’s my favorite cheese ball recipe along with the agriculture story behind its ingredients.
Cheddar Cheese – This popular cow’s milk cheese originated in the village of Cheddar, England. Today it is made around the world and available in a wide range of flavors and colors. Cheddars vary in flavor depending on the length of aging and their origin. As the cheese ages, the whey in the milk evaporates. This results in a sharper flavor and drier texture. Mild Cheddars are aged about three months, while extra sharp cheddar is aged for about 18 months. The flavor of cheddar can also vary by location. The cows that produce the milk for cheese eat different things depending on where they are raised and the season. What they eat can affect the acidity and flavor of the milk. A cow’s diet can affect the color of cheese too, but only subtly. Cheddar cheese is naturally off-white to yellowish in color. The orange color of most cheddars is enhanced by a natural dye derived from seeds of a tropical tree. Annatto has been used to dye cheddar cheese for more than 200 years.
Blue Cheese – Blue vein cheese, or blue cheese, is a generic term for cheese ripened with a strain of penicillium, resulting in blue, gray or green veins of mold throughout the finished product. Blue cheese can be made from the milk of cows, sheep or goats, but cow’s milk blue cheese is the most common. The moldy veins are created during the production stage when the cheese is ‘spiked’ with stainless steel rods to let oxygen circulate and encourage the growth of the mold. This process also softens the texture and develops the distinctive blue flavor. Iowa is home to one of the most well-known blue cheese companies, Maytag Dairy Farms.
Cream Cheese – Cream Cheese is an American invention developed in New York State – not Philadelphia. It is similar to French Neufchâtel in that it is a soft, spreadable cheese made from cow’s milk. But unlike, Neufchâtel, it is unripen and often contains emulsifiers to make it more firm and extend the shelf-life.
Butter – Fresh whole milk from dairy farms is collected and brought to the creamery. The cream is separated from the milk and rapidly heated to a high temperature. Pasteurization removes any disease causing bacteria and helps the butter stay fresh longer. The cream is then churned by shaking or beating it vigorously until it thickens. The remaining liquid, appropriately called buttermilk, is removed. The clumps of butter are then washed and formed into sticks or blocks. Check out this video to see exactly how butter is made today.
Garlic – A close relative of the onion, garlic is an herbaceous perennial that is often grown as an annual crop. Garlic has been grown for more than 5000 years and is thought to have originated in central Asia. Today, China is the largest garlic producer – growing over 80% of the world’s supply.
Onion – Onions are a root vegetable grown primarily for the flavor they add to other foods. In areas where freezing temperatures are rare, they are grown as a winter crop. In cooler climates, they can be planted in early spring. Onions are photoperiodic, which means they grow in response to day-length. Each onion variety will form a bulb only after it has received a certain number of hours of daylight for so many days. Onions are categorized into long-day (northern), intermediate-day (central), and short-day (southern) varieties. While onions are found in back yard gardens and on small farms across the U.S., they are only grown commercially in 20 states.
Pecans – The pecan tree is a species of hickory native to Mexico and the southern United States. Today they are grown on orchards across the southern United States, from California to North Carolina. Check out this video to see how pecans are harvested commercially. Once harvested, they are transported to a shelling plant where they are cleaned, sized, sterilized, cracked and finally, shelled.
Holiday Cheese Ball
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
Note: This recipe works well with 12 ounces of almost any cheese – Swiss, Gouda, pepper jack etc.
- Using a food processor, combine all of the intendents except nuts until smooth.
- Place mixture in the middle of a large piece of plastic wrap. Gather corners and twist top close to cheese to form a ball.
- Refrigerate about 3 hours until firm.
- Reshape plastic wrapped cheese into a ball to correct any flat spots. Remove plastic wrap.
- Roll the cheese ball in pecans. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with crackers.