Cheese

Cheese

A Cheesemonger's Guide to Cheese Balls

Cheese Balls | www.hungryinlove.com
Comte + Blue Cheese | www.hungryinlove.com

A few years back my grandmother gifted me a cookbook, Fare with Flair. It was a collection of recipes submitted by members of her retirement community. It had flair indeed. But the fare was harder to discern. Perusing the retro recipes provided many hours of amusement. A few personal favorites include 'Avocado Salad' (avocado, lime jello, mayonnaise), 'Frozen Fruit Salad' (powdered sugar, mayonnaise, maraschino cherries, crushed pineapple, marshmallows), and 'Dried Beef Pie' (dried beef, cream cheese, milk, pecans). Hard to conjure the final results, isn't it?

It'd been a while since I opened Fare with Flair when the team from Better Homes and Gardens issued a call for recipes for a spread entitled 'Party Like It's 1965'. I knew immediately where to turn for inspiration. If I was going to find an idea anywhere it was within those pages. And I did. In the hor d'oeuvre section I found several recipes for cheese balls. Unlike dried beef pie, cheese balls have stood the test of time. They instantly signal an occasion and everyone loves them. 

I consulted my cheesemonger husband for his thoughts on how we might update the cheese balls of yesteryear. His guidance was simple. First choose salty, nutty, funk-forward cheeses whose flavors will shine through when paired with cream cheese, which is needed as a binder. Alpine style cheeses like Comte and Gruyere fit the bill as do bold blues. Second he recommended axing the spices, seasoning packets, and Worcestershire sauce common in many vintage recipes. When you're splurging on high-quality cheeses you don't want to mask their flavors. Lastly use your coatings to introduce a texture contrast. Nuts never go out of style but don't be hesitant to experiment with less traditional ingredients like seeds, fresh herbs, crumbled bacon, pomegranate, or as we did here, cocoa nibs. That's it. Just a few simple updates and you and your guests will not only be enjoying cheese balls for their nostalgic value, but also for being just plain delicious.

Cocoa Nibs + Pine Nuts | www.hungryinlove.com
Pine Nut Cheese Ball | www.hungryinlove.com
Cheese Balls | www.hungryinlove.com
 You can download the recipe cards featured in this post  here !

You can download the recipe cards featured in this post here!

Ingredients

Blue Cheese + Cocoa Nibs Cheese Ball

  • 4 oz cream cheese (Half of one 8 oz package)
  • 1/3 lb blue cheese (We used Fourme d'Ambert, a French cow's milk cheese widely available in the states. It's creamy, salty, and not too funky - a highly approachable blue!) 
  • 1/3 cup cocoa nibs (Cocoa nibs are dried, roasted, and crushed cocoa beans. They have a deep chocolate taste but are not sweet.)
  • Honey for drizzling

Gruyere + Pine Nut Cheese Ball

  • 4 oz cream cheese (Half of one 8 oz package)
  • 1/3 lb Gruyere 
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

For Serving

  • Crackers (For a retro-themed party Club crackers can't be beat.)
  • Green apple slices

Prep

  • Prepare your blue cheese - remove rind and roughly chop into small pieces
  • Prepare your Gruyere - remove rind and using a box grater, grate cheese on the medium fine surface
  • Place 4 oz of cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat cream cheese until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add blue cheese and beat until well incorporated, about 20 more seconds.
  • Line a small bowl with a sheet of plastic wrap.
  • Using a rubber spatula scrap cheese mixture onto the plastic wrap. Wrap plastic around cheese and use your hands to shape into a ball. Place wrapped cheese ball in refrigerator to chill.
  • Repeat process for your Gruyere cheese ball. Clean stand mixer bowl and attachments and then beat remaining 4 oz cream cheese for 20 seconds.
  • Add grated Gruyere and beat until well incorporated, about 20 seconds.
  • Line small bowl with plastic wrap again.
  • Scrap Gruyere cheese mixture onto plastic wrap, shape into a ball, then place in refrigerator.
  • Chill cheese balls for a minimum of two hours or overnight.
  • Place pine nuts and cocoa nibs each on their own plate.
  • Unwrap each cheese ball and roll in its respective coating. You may need to use your fingers to press nuts and cocoa nibs into spots where they don't stick.
  • Let sit for 30-60 minutes before serving to come to room temperate.
  • Serve with crackers and apple slice. Enjoy!

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Snacks, Vegetables, Cheese

A Holiday Mezze Spread

Mezze Spread | www.hungryinlove.com
Mezze Spread | www.hungryinlove.com
Marinated Carrots | www.hungryinlove.com

Who's getting ready to host a party? I'm off duty this year but if I was it'd look like this. I've had mezze on the brain since my birthday last month. My fam and I went to one of my most favorite places in Cambridge, Sofra Bakery + Cafe, and ordered about three quarters of the menu. If you live within walking, driving, or flying distance I recommend you make a date to get your tush over there. (Pro tip: bring friends who are down to share. You're going to want it all.) Turkish, Lebanese, and Greek flavors get friendly on the menu and the results are otherworldly. I have not strolled through a bazaar with a fork but I imagine it would taste like this cafe.

Of all the feasting to be done at Sofra, the mezze plate is what really makes my heart flutter. Mezze simply means a sampling of small dishes - cheeses, spreads, salads + vegetables. A brightly hued platter of contrasting textures and flavors paired with warm bread might be my favorite way to eat. It was high time I attempted to compose my own. The brilliant mind behind Sofra, Ana Sortun, has kindly shared many of her secrets in her cookbook, Spice. The beets + yogurt and whipped feta are both renditions of Ana's recipes though I've made slight modifications to mix up flavor profiles and make prep less time-intensive.

There is nothing particularly holiday-y about this spread, except that it lends itself very well to a party. Not only can you make everything ahead, you should. The flavors will become more vibrant overnight and then you can tackle your party day to-do list (take out of fridge, let come to room temperature) with feet up and a glass of wine in hand.

PS - I gave myself an early Christmas present this week and rolled out a new word mark for the site. What do you think? The font is called 'smitten' which is appropriate because I am!

Beets + Yogurt | www.hungryinlove.com
Olives with Thyme + Orange | www.hungryinlove.com
Fried Pine Nuts | www.hungryinlove.com
Whipped Feta | www.hungryinlove.com
Marinated Carrots | www.hungryinlove.com
Beets + Yogurt | www.hungryinlove.com

Beets + Yogurt

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. beets
  • 8 oz. strained yogurt (labneh, yogurt cheese, or full fat Greek yogurt)
  • 1 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. mint, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • salt + pepper to taste
  • olive oil + nigella seeds for garnish

Prep

  • Boil beets until easily pierced with a fork; remove from water and allow to cool (cooking time will vary based on size of your beets)
  • When beets are cool enough to handle, massage skins off under running water and discard
  • Using a box grater, finely grate beetroot (This is messy! Set you grater atop wax paper or another surface to protect your table or countertop)
  • Mix grated beets with yogurt, lemon juice, mint, honey, salt + pepper until well blended
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving
  • Serve at room temperature garnished with a drizzle of olive oil + nigella seeds

 

Cumin Marinated Carrots

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp. maras pepper
  • 1 tsp. cumin seed
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Prep

  • Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil
  • Boil carrots until cooked through but not mushy (about 5-7 minutes)
  • While carrots are cooking use a mortar and pestle to mash garlic, maras, cumin, and salt into a paste
  • Drain carrots and place in bowl
  • Toss with garlic-spice paste, lemon juice, lemon zest, and olive oil until well coated
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let marinate in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving
  • Serve at room temperature

 

Whipped Feta with Mint + Lemon

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. feta (ideally sheep's milk or goat's milk)
  • 2 Tbs. half + half (milk or cream may substitute)
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 Tbs. mint, finely chopped
  • 1-2 Tbs. pine nuts

Prep

  • In a food processor blend feta, half + half, lemon zest and mint on high speed until feta is smooth and fluffy (about 1 minute)
  • Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate before serving to all flavors to meld
  • When ready to serve fry pine nuts in a skillet with a glug of olive oil over medium high heat; stir constantly so as not to burn
  • Bring feta to room temperature and top with toasted pine nuts

 

Warm Olives with Orange + Thyme

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Kalamata olives
  • 6-8 strips orange zest
  • 1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil

Prep

  • Toss olives, orange zest, thyme, and olive oil in a bowl
  • When ready to serve preheat oven to 375
  • Transfer olives to an oven-safe dish and heat until warmed through, about 10 minutes

 

Za'tar Flatbread

Ingredients

  • Dough for 1 pizza
  • 2 Tbs. za'tar spice blend
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Prep

  • Place a pizza stone in the oven + preheat oven to 500 degrees
  • Mix za'tar spice with olive oil and salt
  • Roll out pizza dough to desired thickness on a pizza board
  • Pierce dough all over with the tines of a fork
  • Brush olive oil + spice mixture all over dough right up to the edge of the flatbread
  • Transfer dough to pizza stone and bake 6-8 minutes (until edges are browned and dough is crisp)
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool
  • Cut into thin strips for dipping
  • Store leftover flatbread in a resealable plastic bag

Cheese

New England Summer Cheese Plate

New England Summer Cheese Plate | www.hungryinlove.com
New England Summer Cheese Plate | www.hungryinlove.com

Cheese and rules do not pair well together. Cheese is cheerful; rules are a drag. That's why the suggestions below are not meant to be misconstrued as rules. There are countless ways to build a bliss-inducing cheese plate. These are some of my favorite tactics of late. Take them or leave them but I do hope you're inspired to replace an upcoming meal with a cheese spread of your own creation.

1. Go Topless - Eating cheese sideways in little wedges is the practical and obvious route but it's not the only way! Find a soft-ripened cheese amenable to serving with a spoon. Simply wriggle a knife underneath the top rind to shave it off revealing an inviting bath of gooey goodness. Pictured here is one of my all-time favorites, Harbison from Jasper Hill Farm. Other cheeses well suited to this treatment are Winnimere, also from Jasper Hill, and Rush Creek Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin.

2. Crackers Get Too Much Play - Crackers are great and all but they need not tag along each and every time the cheese comes out. In fact sometimes I find them downright disruptive. These days I'm into letting firmer cheeses fly solo and enjoying softer cheeses (see above) with bread. Bonus: axe the crackers and you can tell your gluten-free friends you've designed a cheese plate just for them.

3. Pick A Theme - Beyond aiming for a mix of textures, it can be a fun challenge to self-impose some parameters. Go for only cheeses from a one country or region, cheeses of a certain age, a milk trio (cow, goat, sheep) or a milk sweep (cow, cow, cow). It'll make the cheese buying experience less daunting and give your cheese plate a little story to tell. Here I decided to highlight three cheeses from New England because they're pretty much crushing it right now

Pictured above, from left to right:

Harbison from Jasper Hill Farm (Greensboro, Vermont) - This is a pasteurized cow's milk cheese made in the style of Vacherin Mont d'Or (that is, bark-wrapped gooey spoon cheese).

Ascutney Mountain from Cobb Hill Cheese (Hartland, Vermont) - This is an alpine style, Jersey cow, raw milk cheese. Fun fact: this cheese is made on a real live commune!

Ellie's Cloudy Down from Ruggles Hill Creamery (Hardwick, Massachusetts) - Is 'Cloudy Down' not the prettiest name for a cheese you ever did hear? I sure think it is. This cheese comes from hand-milked, herb-munching, NPR-listening goats. Truth.

Shishito Peppers | www.hungryinlove.com
Cheese Plate Cherries + Figs | www.hungryinlove.com
New England Summer Cheese Plate | www.hungryinlove.com
New England Summer Cheese Plate | www.hungryinlove.com
New England Summer Cheese Plate | www.hungryinlove.com
New England Summer Cheese Plate | www.hungryinlove.com

Cheese

Fondue Party

Cheese Fondue | www.hungryinlove.com
 The dipping spread.

The dipping spread.

Cheese Fondue Party | www.hungryinlove.com

Believe it or not last weekend was my first, true fondue experience. My friends were aghast. How could I possibly have  eschewed this dish for three full decades? I used the opportunity to reflect on the many excuses I've encountered for not bothering with it.

1) "Fondue was all the rage in the 70's." This one is hurled as an insult far too often. We celebrate all that is retro in other departments. See Fleetwood Mac, record players, and Connect Four. I know bars that have all three.

2) "You need all that fancy equipment." I'm not a fan of single-use kitchen equipment especially that which is cumbersome to store and comes with a heap of accoutrements. Therefore I have no fondue pot nor those slender, elegant, European fork-spears. No gear, no fondue. Or so I thought. This weekend we managed with a good old dutch oven and regular forks. Most importantly we avoided purchasing this. Win-win.

3) "If you throw a fondue party, too many friends will show up." This is a valid problem that I can't help you with. But ultimately it's one we can file in the 'good to have' category.

 It's a good day for hot cheese.

It's a good day for hot cheese.

Despite the world conspiring to keep me and fondue apart, I married a cheesemonger so it was only a matter of time. As it would happen just a few weeks after we tied the knot last year Tripp set off to Switzerland on a cheese-sourcing mission. His goal? Return with new offerings for Formaggio Kitchen from producers not yet featured in the US. Among the cheeses he returned with were a Gruyere and a Vacherin Fribourgeois, two classic fondue cheeses.  So you see, this post was in the making before I even started this blog. 

Now that I've been initiated I have a few words of wisdom to impart. Splurge on the cheese, not the copper fondue set. The more friends  you can squeeze into a circle around your pot, the better the ceremonial quality. Wait for a snowy day and eating all that melted cheese will feel not only justified but necessary.

 Wheels of Gruyere aging in Villeneuve, Switzerland.

Wheels of Gruyere aging in Villeneuve, Switzerland.

 A Lake Geneva vista on the cheese trail.

A Lake Geneva vista on the cheese trail.

 Tripp, hard at work.

Tripp, hard at work.

For Fondue

As a main course a good rule of thumb is a half pound of cheese per person. For each pound of cheese use one cup of wine. Note that this is a generous estimation. This recipe can easily serve more than four depending on appetites.

  • 1 lb Gruyere, grated
  • 1 lb Vacherin Fribourgeois, grated
  • Pinch of flour
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 cups dry white wine (plus chilled bottles for drinking; Fondant or Gruner Vetliner are traditional choices)
  • White or black pepper

Comte, Emmentaler, and Raclette are all good substitutes for Gruyere and Vacherin Fribourgeois. There's no magic to a two-cheese blend either. Use one alone or a mix of several.

For Dipping

  • Cubed bread
  • Cubed salami
  • Cornichons (tiny, cute pickles)
  • Boiled new potatoes

Other great options: Cured beef, Pickled Onions, Proscuitto, or whatever else you fancy.

Prep

  • Ready your platter of dippers; the fondue takes only a few minutes to come together and should be served immediately
  • Grate cheese (avoid buying pre-grated cheese as a general rule; the air exposure compromises flavor)
  • Toss grated cheese with a pinch of flour to avoid clumping
  • Rub a heavy bottomed dutch oven or fondue pot with a split clove of raw garlic
  • Toss garlic clove into pot and add wine
  • Bring wine just to a boil, remove garlic clove
  • Add cheese to the simmering wine and use a whisk to incorporate gradually, about 1 minute; you want to allow the cheese to melt on its own terms and avoid vigorous stirring; the fondue will be smooth and fall in ribbons when lifted with a spoon
  • Stir in pepper to taste
  • Move dutch oven to the table and serve immediately

Cheese

Raw Milk Ricotta (on Toast)

Raw Milk Ricotta | www.hungryinlove.com
Raw Milk Ricotta on Toast | www.hungryinlove.com

Toast is hot. Hot as in warm, but more recently hot as in trendy. Here's proof from NPR, the New Yorker, and my neighborhood coffee shop. No argument here because toast is also delicious. I will stand firm that no topper can beat melty butter. But it is a thrill to venture into new territory on occasion. 

That's where raw milk comes in. Because toast, whether trendy or humble, is decidedly safe. Toast can travel freely across state lines. Toast will never be labeled contraband. There are no bootleg toast operations popping up in the seedy part of town. Raw milk on the other hand might find itself guilty as charged in each of these scenarios (okay, probably not the last one). But indeed there is an element of danger to raw milk, a bad boy quality that is frankly irresistible. 

Raw milk is simply milk that has not been pasteurized or homogenized, and with that comes a risk of pathogens. Laws governing its sale and distribution vary wildly by state. In this 2012 article Dana Goodyear pegged raw milk as the new pot. It's an amusing but an apt analogy. Passions run deep on each side of the debate. Advocates cite its nutritional advantages while food safety officials maintain that it's a precarious choice. 

I for one am uninterested in getting too hung up on the politics. For us, we're sure of a few things: other foods we enjoy are likely an equal gamble, it's gratifying to buy fresh milk directly from our farmer friends, and raw milk makes a mighty fine ricotta.


Collecting Milk from the Tank | www.hungryinlove.com

On our way home from Thanksgiving festivities last week we stopped at a farm that sells raw milk BYOB style (bring your own ball jar). This milk is but a few hours old and, honest to goodness, goes down like a vanilla milkshake.

Raw Milk Ricotta Mise En Place | www.hungryinlove.com

Back at home base, the magic of cheesemaking commences.

Heating Milk for Ricotta | www.hungryinlove.com
Ricotta Curds and Whey | www.hungryinlove.com

In mere minutes: curds and whey. I have made ricotta successfully with regular milk several times. The curds tend to be smaller which I understand is a result of the pasteurization process.

Draining Ricotta | www.hungryinlove.com

After straining you'll be left with a generous supply of whey. The proportions in this recipe yield about 2 cups of ricotta and 6 cups of whey. Over at Don't Waste the Crumbs, blogger Tiffany has assembled an extensive list of ideas for using leftover whey, including household uses beyond the kitchen.

Raw Milk Ricotta | www.hungryinlove.com
Raw Milk Ricotta on Toast | www.hungryinlove.com

 

Raw Milk Ricotta

Yields ~ 2 cups ricotta, 6 cups whey

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon (8 cups) fresh, raw milk
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice, about 1 lemon's worth (vinegar may be used as a substitute)
  • 1 tsp salt

Prep

  • Set a colander lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth over a bowl  (if you don't have cheesecloth a thin weave cloth or napkin or even a paper towl can stand in)
  • Pour milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan and add salt
  • Heat milk until it just comes to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning
  • Turn off heat
  • Add lemon juice (or other acid you're using)
  • Stir gently to distribute lemon juice; curds will begin to form immediately
  • Let sit for 5-10 minutes to allow curds (milk solids) to come together and separate from the whey
  • Pour the curds and whey into the lined strainer
  • Allow to drain anywhere from 15-30 minutes. The length of time will depend on how moist you prefer your ricotta. Try tasting at 15 minutes and decide whether to let it keep going. The ricotta in these photos strained for 20 minutes. If after straining, you find that the ricotta is too firm for your liking, stir a bit of whey back in one tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency
  • Viola! You're ready to enjoy homemade cheese. This ricotta will keep in the fridge for about 5 days.

(On Toast)

There are an infinite number of ways to enjoy ricotta on toast and of course, no rules. In these photos I toasted bread from a pullman loaf which is sufficiently dense so that cheese won't slip through any crannies. A naked slather is divine. I also like to add:

  • Olive oil with salt and pepper (pictured)
  • Drizzle of honey and cayenne
  • Dollop of jam or preserves
  • Pesto or oilve tapenade (a lazy lady's pizza!)