Party Hors D'oeuvres: A Trio Of Cheese Balls

Going to a New Year's fête? Taking the requisite bottle of Champagne? And perhaps something nice to share? May we offer a suggestion? (Last question, promise.)

With festive, globe-like appearance, these cheese balls could practically be hung like luminous ornaments on a tree. But they're much better consumed. And because they're so soft and spreadable, they make somewhat easier party food than that awkward wedge of cheese that you struggle to maneuver delicately onto a cracker. From a seed-encrusted goat cheese ball with caramelized shallots and cucumber, to a blue cheese option with homemade candied nuts, to a punchy English cheddar ball spiked with olives, dijon, lemon, and dill, there's something here for everyone.

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We loved coming up with these recipes. (They were actually cross-tested and tweaked across states, between Nora's and Faith's respective kitchens.) What we learned was that the flavor combinations are truly endless; subbing in different cheeses, herbs, and other add-ins is totally possible, and we encourage it!

While we're totally on board with the following options, you can definitely use these recipes as templates and experiment to suit your taste. The one ingredient that unites each cheese ball is cream cheese. Even a harder cheese like cheddar becomes creamy when blended with the stuff! So just as long as you keep the cream cheese in the recipe to act as your base, substitute freely. You'll end up with something fun, just a little bit different to take to a party, and best of all, homemade.

Serve with baguette, seeded or nut breads, crackers, and crudites, like radishes, spears from the heart of celery, endive leaves, slices of raw fennel, and blanched green beans and broccoli.

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A few tips before starting your cheese ball quest:

  • Make sure all cheeses are at room temperature before starting. If your cheeses are too cold, they won't blend into a cohesive mass. But after mixing, your base will be quite soft (especially the goat cheese ball). Scrape onto a piece of parchment or plastic wrap, place into a small bowl (which will encourage a round-ish shape), chill in the fridge, and then form your ball.
  • Make them ahead of time! This is what's especially great about these little balls o' joy. If you make the actual cheese ball in advance, the flavors will meld and infuse through the cheese. They'll also have more time to firm up.
  • Make your coating separatedly from the cheese ball itself. Each of these recipes has a coating that the cheese ball is rolled in before serving. We've separated out the steps and ingredients for the coatings; make your coating and place it in a large dish before rolling the cheese ball.
  • Coat with the outer crust just before serving. With any of the surface embellishments — nuts, seeds, or herbs — it's better to roll the balls before serving, rather than in advance, to prevent discoloration of the herbs and to ensure crunchy nuts and seeds. However, for convenience, you can of course roll them before you go to a party.
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Goat Cheese Ball with Chives, Cucumber, and Caramelized Shallot

makes 1

Coating
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon Maldon salt or flaky fleur de sel
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Cheese Ball
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 large shallots, thinly sliced
4 ounces (1/2 standard package) cream cheese, softened
6 ounces goat cheese, softened
2 tablespoons minced chives
1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced (about 1/2 cup diced)
Salt and pepper

Heat a medium skillet over medium heat. Add poppy, sesame, and caraway seeds and toast just until sesame seeds turn golden, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and add Maldon salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Add the olive oil to the same skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallots, season generously with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and deeply golden, about 15 minutes. Do not let brown. Remove from heat and let cool.

Combine the cream cheese and goat cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Blend to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the chives, cooled shallots, and cucumber and pulse 5 to 6 times, or more if you'd like the shallots and cucumber in smaller pieces. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Transfer contents to piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap and place in a small bowl. Chill until very firm, about 2 hours, or up to 3 days in advance. (If you are in a hurry you can also put the cheese in the freezer for 1 hour.)

Using your hands and keeping the cheese in its wrapping, gently mold into the shape of a ball. If ball becomes too soft, chill again in the plastic wrap or parchment until ready to serve.

Just before serving, roll the ball in the seed mixture, tossing to coat. Serve with nutty whole grain crackers.

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Blue Cheese Ball with Candied Almonds

makes 1

Candied Nut Coating
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sprigs thyme, leaves only, plus additional for garnish
1/2 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted*
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted*

Cheese Ball
1/3 pound creamy, soft blue cheese, softened (we used St. Agur, but other good options are Fourme D'Ambert, Cashel Blue, or Roaring 40's)
4 ounces (1/2 standard package) cream cheese, softened
Honey, for drizzling
Salt and pepper

Make the sugared nut coating:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking pan with a nonstick baking mat or parchment paper. In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a medium bowl, combine light brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and thyme leaves. Add nuts and cooled simple syrup and stir to coat. Transfer nuts to prepared baking pan and spread in a single layer.
Bake, stirring every 5-10 minutes, until nuts are dry and toasted, about 30-35 minutes. To test for doneness, remove a single nut from oven and let cool. If crunchy and dry, nuts are ready. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Reserve.

Make the cheese ball:
Combine blue and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Blend to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Blue cheese tends to be both salty and peppery, so you may not need additional seasoning.) Transfer contents to piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap and place in a small bowl. Chill until very firm, about 2 hours, or up to 3 days in advance.
Using your hands and keeping the cheese in its wrapping, gently mold into the shape of a ball. If ball becomes too soft, chill again in the plastic wrap or parchment until ready to serve. (If you are in a hurry you can also put the cheese in the freezer for 1 hour.)

Just before serving, roll the ball in the candied nuts. Lightly drizzle with honey and sprinkle with additional thyme leaves, if desired. If you have difficulty making the nuts stick to the ball, the ball may be too cold, in which case let it sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, until the surface becomes a bit more tacky.

*NOTE: Use a combination of nuts if you like, but if you only have one variety on hand, feel free to use just one type.

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Cheddar and Olive Cheese Ball with Dijon, Lemon, and Dill

makes 1

Coating
1/2 cup (packed) dill fronds, finely chopped

Cheese Ball
1/4 pound sharp cheddar cheese (preferably English farmhouse), finely grated and at room temperature
4 ounces (1/2 standard package) cream cheese, softened
1 cup pitted green olives, preferably nyon, picholine, or arbequina, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
large pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

Combine cheddar and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Blend to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add olives, lemon zest, cayenne, and dijon and pulse until olives are quite fine. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional cayenne, if desired. Transfer contents to piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap and place in a small bowl. Chill until very firm, about 2 hours, or up to 3 days in advance.

Using your hands and keeping the cheese in its wrapping, gently mold into the shape of a ball. If ball becomes too soft, chill again in the plastic wrap or parchment until ready to serve. (If you are in a hurry you can also put the cheese in the freezer for 1 hour.)

Just before serving, roll the ball in the dill. If you have difficulty making the dill stick to the ball, the ball may be too cold, in which case let it sit at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes, until the surface becomes a bit more tacky.

Related: Recipe: Havarti, Parsley and Garlic Cheese Ball

(Images: Faith Durand)

Per serving, based on 1 servings. (% daily value)
Calories
4190
Fat
340 g (523.1%)
Saturated
153.7 g (768.7%)
Trans
0 g
Carbs
167.1 g (55.7%)
Fiber
33.8 g (135.3%)
Sugars
96.1 g
Protein
149.5 g (299%)
Cholesterol
684.9 mg (228.3%)
Sodium
10016.3 mg (417.3%)

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