Gruyere

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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Vegetables

Acorn Squash + Creamy Herb Farro

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Creamy Herb Farro | www.hungryinlove.com
Creamy Herb Farro | www.hungryinlove.com

Spring has sprung and brought with her today  a high of 28 degrees. Good grief. We're weary here in New England but I know, I know, old news.  I'd probably be numb to our situation if we hadn't just returned from a jaunt to Florida. There's nothing like a four day Vitamin-D binge to bring your state of deprivation into sharp focus. Well that and the fact that while I'm sporting flip flops and a maxi dress, the snowbird one seat over at brunch is cloaked in a turtleneck and a fleece. No lie.

But enough of that. In the spirit of the sunshine state, I'll turn to the bright side. March in New England has its charms and one is kitchen projects that involve cream sauce and melted cheese. Think of our poor neighbors to the south. Floridians have no business turning their ovens on in 80 degree weather. I'll bet there's but six weeks a year where roasted squash sounds like a good idea. The rest of the time they're left to get along on coconuts, strawberries, and rum runners. It's a pity, really, to not know the joys of hunkering.

This mish-mash was dreamed up one of those nights where the dinner selections looked positively drab. Wilty parsley = not inspiring. But you know what is? Mac + cheese. This farro will take you there. Except 'there', with all those whole grains and green speckles, will feel delightfully virtuous.

Hello sunshine, my old friend. 

Hello sunshine, my old friend. 

Farro | www.hungyinlove.com
Acorn Squash | www.hungryinlove.com
Roasted Acorn Squash | www.hungryinlove.com
Acorn Squash Stuffed with Creamy Herb Farro | www.hungryinlove.com

Roasted Acorn Squash + Creamy Herb Farro

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 Acorn squash
  • Olive oli, salt, + pepper
  • 1 cup farro
  • 2 Tbs. butter 
  • 1 Tbs. flour
  • 1 Cup whole milk
  • 1 Cup grated Gruyere cheese + extra for sprinkling
  • 1 Cup chopped fresh herbs (I used parsley and basil)

Prep

  • Roast the Squash
    • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
    • Cut squash in half lengthwise (be careful, this part's a tad scary)
    • Scoop out seeds and discard (or save to roast)
    • Place halves on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt + pepper
    • Bake for one hour or until the flesh easily gives when pierced with a fork; remove from oven
  • Cook the Farro
    • Bring 6 cups of salted water to a rolling boil
    • Rinse farro and add to boiling water (You can cook farro like rice or like pasta; I prefer the pasta method so you eliminate the guessing game of getting the right grain to liquid ratio)
    • Cook farro at a boil for 20 minutes or until grains are tender
    • Drain
  • Make Cheese Sauce
    • In a heavy-bottomed saucepan melt butter over medium heat
    • Whisk in flour
    • Whisking regularly, cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes until roux takes on a light brown color and becomes completely smooth; take care not to burn
    • Add milk whisking constantly until sauce begins to thicken
    • Turn heat to low and continue cooking, whisking regularly, for about 10 minutes until sauce is smooth and no longer tastes of flour
    • Add grated cheese and stir until melted and incorporated
    • Remove from heat
  • Assemble
    • Add cooked farro and fresh herbs to the cheese sauce and stir until well blended (you will have more of this mixture than you need to fill the squash, and that's is a good thing! It's awesome on its own and makes great leftovers)
    • Scoop farro into squash halves and garnish with grated Gruyere
    • Return squash to a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until cheese on top has melted and just browned
    • Serve hot

 

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