Friday, May 8, 2015

Smoked Cheese Ball


The cheese ball is one of those antiquated party foods from 20th Century days gone by, previously perfected by glamorous housewives of a Mad Men calibre for the suited & booted colleagues of their husbands to enjoy while slurping down cocktails with their wives. I remember cheese balls being the haute party food of the 80's, brought to every church potluck, home barbecue and Christmas party we attended. Back then they were intimidating, gigantic mystery balls surrounded by Ritz Crackers that I avoided like the plague. Now, I'm bringing back the cheese ball at my house with a more sophisticated approach to combat Summer heat in the UK where air conditioners are scarce, but party food needs must be met. I suppose it's important to say up front that this is a recipe you need some time for… The cheese mixture needs to sit in the fridge for between 4 and 24 hours, but other than that, it's the easiest recipe known to man and there's hardly any cooking involved.


If you don't have a party in the diary, don't despair… This can be made as one large ball or multiple smaller ones and it's the perfect picnic food, lunchtime treat or nibbles before you next family dinner. I even love having one of these in my fridge for snacking on while watching a movie. It's a yummy alternative to junk food!

As for the cheese, feel free to use whatever cheese you like. Seriously… Anything you can finely grate will work. I love using a bit of smoked cheese because it adds a major flavor boost, but you don't have to and don't feel confined to smoked cheddar. I bet smoked Gouda would be nice too! This would easily work with only one type of grated cheese like cheddar if you wanted to go down that route, but if you're trying to get rid of a block or two of leftover cheese, why not mix and match? I suspect this would work beautifully with a bit of Red Leicester, though I've never tried it. You can also use whatever nuts you like, but I've given the recipe below for my favorite combo of cheese & nut. As far as the crackers go, I'd say that this definitely benefits from a more upmarket cracker with a bit of texture. Ale crackers, multi-seed or anything that hard, dense and has a bit of crunch to it will be great. The thinner the crackers, the harder it will be to scoop up the yummy cheese on them without them breaking.


Ingredients
280g light cream cheese, softened
100g smoked cheddar, finely shredded (at room temperature)
100g mild cheddar cheese, finely shredded (at room temperature)
75g unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1/4 cup finely chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup finely chopped Brazil nuts
Crackers for serving


Method

1. Add the cream cheese, shredded cheeses, butter, milk and Worcestershire sauce to a large mixing bowl. Beat with a mixer until light and fluffy. Cover with cling film and chill for at least 4 hours, but up to 24 hours if you need to.

2. Meanwhile, toast your chopped nuts if they're not already toasted when you buy them by putting them in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and stirring or tossing occasionally. Heat them gently until they start to give off a light, nutty aroma - that's when they're toasted. Set them aside to cool in a shallow dish.

3. When the cheese mixture is cooled, remove it from the fridge and shape it into a large ball. Roll the ball in the nuts and if you need to, use your hands to press them into the cheese so that no cheese is exposed. The ball should be completely covered in nuts all the way around.

4. Before serving, allow the cheese ball to stand for at least 15 minutes. Serve it on a  round plate or platter with a selection of crackers.
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