Although the region’s artisan cheese makers aren’t rushing to advertise it, a growing number of holiday party hosts have discovered the refined Pacific Northwest cheeses that anchor fancy cheese plates work just as well in cheese balls.
Cheese balls – and cheese logs, the elongated version of the formed cheese, herb and nut spread – were once a fixture of festive tables, but their stock plummeted as eaters became acquainted with the dry bulbs of port-wine cheese that grocers slid between ready-to-eat Jell-O salads and pepperoni sticks.
“Whenever you’d mention them, there would inevitably be giggling and eye rolling,” Homesick Texan blogger Lisa Fain wrote in a recent pro-cheese ball post. “Heck, even the term “cheese ball” began to connote an over-the-top, slightly out-of-touch buffoon.”
But like mustaches and cassette tapes, the circa 1970s appetizer is poised for a comeback. Chow.com last month created a layered cheese ball “turducken” from figs, chorizo, Asian pear, blue cheese and toasted walnuts.
Cheese experts say the new emphasis on quality ingredients is what makes the cheese ball revival exciting.
Although Mt. Townsend doesn’t produce its own cheese balls, Taylor describes the market as a D.I.Y cheese ball factory. She’s sold cheese to many customers who plan to buy complementary local nuts and herbs from other Pike Place vendors.
“Someone just said our Fromage Blanc mixes well into cheese balls,” says Taylor, who also endorses the creamery’s black-truffle infused Trufflestack for ball and log purposes. “I don’t think they’re as passe as they used to be.”
Yet the snack still isn’t stylish enough for many Washington cheese makers to consider marketing it.
“I have not heard of any local cheese makers either promoting or producing cheese balls,” e-mails Tami Parr, author of Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest. “Perhaps it is symptomatic of the seriousness of the cheese industry.”
There is something silly about rolling cheddar cheese and onions in cream cheese saturated with Worcestershire sauce. But, according to the Chicago Tribune correspondent who included the “zippy cheese ball” recipe in a 1965 column on what to serve for New Year’s Eve: “(It’s) the secret to relaxed hostessing.”