Tuesday, November 27, 2007

All I Want For Christmas is a Cheese Ball

“…and now the eyes of my eyes are opened” e.e. cummings

I do not know what kind of cheese it was. Merely that a singular cheese ball served upon a platter was offered to famished guests one clear Christmas evening. This audacious act of stingy (according to tale) in turn fueled a growing appetite (according to me) for the re-telling of this mingy meal and just like clockwork along with stuffed stockings and bellies past full, the cheese ball story rolled out making its yearly grand appearance. I’ve tried to make sense of this story as one outside of the original scene struggles to do asking pertinent questions, viewing the situation from various vantages but always alas- eluding the point.

I wanted to know what comprised the cheese ball, a little Blue with Neufchatel or perhaps a blend of Cheddar and Swiss. Was it enormous with jolly scoops heaved out surrounded by a moat of bright seedy crackers or fist sized, tight lipped, and shunned? Was the fromage plated ceremoniously in the middle of a well polished table, diners with fork and knife in hand and silence hanging askew in the air? I fill my head up with every variation of cheese ball eating on Christmas day and still come up with satisfaction, which always leaves the story teller who understands the obvious irony of the tale just a little exasperated.

With no clarity in the actual details and only the dramatic flourish that family legends are famous for, I wisely abstained from the “why?” and the “how could they!” of the matter, focusing instead on composition, atmosphere, and shape. But I tell you some ten years later after the story reveler has come and gone- that maligned slump of curd still shadows me. Every year as I trace the hazy outlines of myth, the cheese ball glows a little brighter swiftly gaining odd momentum, even threatening to overtake the fruitcake which reigns supreme in my mind.

Its forename is unintentionally derisive, albeit truthful and to the point. It possesses neither elegant shape nor stature holding low center to the ground, rotund and spheroidal. It dons a casual coat of toasted nuts, parsley, even crushed Chex mix, occasionally livening things up with a tacked on cherry top. Shrink wrapped phosphorescent orange wedged between the jellies and the beef stick, the Hickory Farm cheese ball of the 70’s was coveted childhood prize.

This pudgy amiable cheese food harkens back to a time when things were simpler and choices fewer. It reminds me of that treasure trove of miniature goodies nestled within a paper grass filled box each item a beautiful gift waiting to be nibbled or rapaciously torn into. Instead of children we became mice, gallant princes, or far-from-home paupers, transformed in equal measure by magic and merriment. We ate Ritz crackers and onion chip dip and canned fruit cocktail with a smile, we inhaled Vienna sausages smeared on bread. There were no spun caramel creations, no turduckens, micro greens, or finishing salts- no blowtorches or advanced cooking degrees required to pull off elaborate show stopping affairs.

It is not that I don’t appreciate the latest and the greatest or sometimes covet the furthest and the widest. However mixed into the nostalgia of my childhood past is a desire for real presence more than presents*. I think I am beginning to understand why that cheese ball commanded so much attention after all these years. It sat in humble defiance to all that is fussy and expectedly over the top, oblivious to holiday gyrations that leave folks weary, bleary, and broke. Lucky to sit at the table of plenty and truthfully too much, the cheese Buddha serenely asks: "What is enough?" And after all these years, I hope to know the answer.

* Thank you V for the appropriate phrase.

Simply Cheese Ball- A quick look around and I became overwhelmed with all of the variations out there. Basic rule seems to be roughly equal parts cream cheese to hard shredded, then mix in any extras that sound appealing. While an aggressive horseradish version wins my vote, I have been flirting with the idea of Liptauer cheese for some time. Pinochle, salami, and beer anyone?

8 oz. softened cream cheese
8 oz. grated sharp cheddar (a mix of whatever you like)
2 tsp. finely chopped green onion
1 Tblsp. Prepared horseradish (to taste)
Chopped toasted walnuts/pecans

Directions: Combine everything but the nuts until well mixed. Chill mixture about an hour and then form into a ball and roll into the toasted nuts to coat. Chill again covered for about a day and serve at room temperature with assorted crackers or crisp apple slices.


Anh said...

what a great food memory! I would love to have these for Xmas, too.

HipWriterMama said...

Ah...the cheese ball. Your recipe sounds delicious!

Gattina said...

horseradish wins my heart too! Could Liptauer be more like feta , although it's said to possibly subsitute with cream cheese?
Calli, oh yes, I make (actually already done!) your "X" cookies :) Your recipe is the important paper, besides of my passport, in my briefcase :) :)

Monkey Wrangler said...

Killing me softly, with cheeseballs you are. This one really brought me down memory lane and all things Hickory Farms wrapped and gift boxed from the Coddingtown mall.

Now, besides the cheese, I want some summer sausage. Ah the joys of youth.

Lydia said...

Ooooh, I haven't had a cheese ball like this for years. Wonderful memory, and wonderful post. Thank you!

Honeycake said...

I live in Alameda where I recently overheard the following at Encinal Market: Checker: "Have you ordered your cheese ball yet, Karen?" Customer: "Oh, yes, it's already ordered, thanks, Jan!" Not only is it a holiday staple, but we check in to make sure our neighbor is covered...
Happy cheese!

Lucy said...


Tell me, what is crushed Chex mix?

Callipygia said...

anh- every year I say I'm going to make one, but this year is the first in a long time.

hipwritermama- Thanks as you probably know I'm more of a toss-it-together cook, but it's cheese and v. forgiving.

gattina- I am tempted to put wasabi in as well. I have never had lipto cheese which is a sheeps milk, the Liptauer is a spread using feta,lipto, or cream cheese. It has anchovies,& capers, crushed caraway seeds too!

monkey wrangler- Hickory Farms, Roberta Flack, summer sausage, good times definitely good times.

lydia- I think those 70's cocktail foods were generally kind of good huh? pigs in blanket, rumaki...

honey- that is a great story, we all need a concerned neighbor like Jan!

lucy- I'm not actually sure I have ever had it, but it is an addictive "snack mix" made from crunchy breakfast cereal (plus melted butter, worchestershire sauce,plus other seasonings) which people make for holiday parties and even give for gifts. Kind of like an unhealthy high sodium trail mix!

sher said...

OK, I can tell you right now that if I was at a party where that was served, it would be all mine. I'm not sharing. Seriously.

Freya and Paul said...

Cheese Balls failed to make an impact on British Christmases, we were too busy covering oranges in foil and sticking sausages on cocktail sticks in them. Ahh, the good ol' days...

sher said...

Hi, hope you're having wonderful holiday cooking experiences. I miss your marvelous prose! Hugs!

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll come back and write soon! Happy New Year!