Throughout the nearly 12 months (!) I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve crafted a duo of tuna casseroles, a full chicken with a can of pineapple dumped on top, and a jello mold that wasn’t really a jello mold.
Yet the glorious creation you see before you (the very first recipe that appears in Nonnie’s cookbook, in fact) might be the most proudly retro thing I’ve made so far—a onetime party platter staple that’s largely gone the way of crinoline and bomb shelters. Unless you’re someone who gets her recipes directly from Kraft’s website, maybe, or the sort of person who will eat what’s essentially a cheese ball if and only if it has a fancy French name and does not come in the shape of a ball.
Which, actually, I get. Because you know what? “Ball” is not a very appetizing term, especially when it follows the word “cheese.” There’s a reason the phrase has taken on a negative connotation since the days of Betty Draper. After I made one, though, I realized that one of the things I liked most about it was the fact that my cheese ball lived up to its name. It was completely unsubtle, both in shape and in flavor (cheese + butter + nuts = profit!); it was proudly old-fashioned; and, like the best dad joke or corny pop song, it was also surprisingly charming.
Suddenly, I could understand why cheese balls were so popular back in the day; what I didn’t get was why they ever fell out of favor in the first place.
Camembert-Jack Cheese Ball
2 cups grated jack cheese
2 oz. camembert cheese [I had to eyeball this amount, since the only pieces for sale were obviously much larger than this; I ended up using about one quarter of a half-pound piece of cheese]
1/4 cup butter [Yes, that would be half a stick. It’s fine; you’re having a party! You’ll want it to be pretty soft, btw.]
1/3 cup dry sherry [because it wouldn’t be a Nonnie recipe without some misplaced sherry]
1 teaspoon grated onion [Yes, that is a teensy amount, and it’s a pain to grate an onion; I ended up with a teaspoon of mush even on my grater’s largest holes. You have my permission to skip this step]
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Mix all ingredients together and blend well. [Do you use the rind from the camembert? I ended up going with “no,” because it didn’t seem from Nonnie’s instructions like you were supposed to actually mix this using a blender; I tried to make up for the bit of weight lost via chucking the crust by adding a bit more cheese innards to the mix.]
Chill. Form into a ball, and coat with a sprinkling of curry powder or nuts. [My preferred balling method: scoop the goopy room temp cheese ball mush together, dump the whole thing onto a piece of saran wrap, gather it together in the middle of the wrap, refrigerate for at least an hour, and voila—you’ll be left with a firm yet supple dairy concoction that takes beautifully to hand-balling.
Oh, and as you can tell from the pictures: I went with nuts over curry powder, toasting up some walnuts, chopping them finely, and rolling the ball around in them gently so they’d adhere. I ended up with maybe a quarter cup of leftover walnut parts, which made a great addition to a salad later that week.]
The verdict: I won’t lie to you: the recipe as written is pretty sherry-forward, as I feared it would be. (P.S. As of Operation Cheese Ball, I am officially out of sherry. A whole bottle of it was used in service of this blog. I’ve also used up more than one ginormo bottle of Crisco vegetable oil. Should I feel… proud?) Thankfully, the overwhelming taste was easy enough to mitigate; all I did was add in more cheese, a scotch more camembert and about half of the jack I had leftover after grating up two cups.
With that simple taste adjustment, I ended up with a real thing of beauty—a retro-fabulous appetizer that served beautifully as the centerpiece of my Olympics Opening Ceremony party spread, and one that got almost entirely devoured over the course of the night. Which made me feel proud, not only as a food blogger, but also as an American—because what’s more patriotic than snarfing down monstrous amounts of fat as you criticize the bodies and outfits of people infinitely more athletic than you? USA! USA!