Up until recently, most hosts wouldn’t dream of setting out a cheese ball at a party, long considered to be rather outré and out of style. But cheese balls are making their comeback as the playful party snack. Soft cheese is molded into a ball shape and adorned with different seeds, nuts or dried fruit. Sweet or savory, the options are never-ending.
The first cheese ball, however, was of grander proportions. In the early 1800s, Elder John Leland of Cheshire, Massachusetts crafted a cheese ball that weighed a hefty 1,235 pounds. According to legend, the Baptist community of Cheshire donated milk from over 900 cows to make enough cheese for this ball known as “The Cheshire Mammoth Cheese.” Preaching along the way, he transported the ball by wagon and then rolled it across the White House lawn to serve it to President Thomas Jefferson to show his Republican patriotism and appreciation for religious liberty.
Leland announced to the president that the cheese was made without the help of slaves. Though stories vary about what happened to the cheese, the most popular tale is that it was displayed at the White House for two years and served at various Republican party functions before being tossed into the Potomac River.
The adaptable appetizer resurfaced publicly in 1944 while women were throwing modest parties during wartime. The cheese ball had a place in this for its versatility. Columnist for the Minneapolis Star Virginia Safford profiled women in Minneapolis for her book, Food of My Friends. Safford told food stories by describing each hostess and their signature dish. Mrs. Selmber E. Ellertson inspired the cheese ball entry.
Cheese balls went on to become the mid-century modern hors d’oeuvres. But after twenty-five years, along with Jell-o Salads and cigarettes, cheese balls weren’t welcome anymore at the party.
Then, in 2002 comedian and cheese ball enthusiast Amy Sedaris wrote a play with her brother, David Sedaris, named The Book of Liz. The story follows a woman who makes traditional and smoky cheese balls that sustain her religious community, “Clusterhaven.”
In 2007, Sedaris showed Martha Stewart and her live television audience how to make her favorite smoky cheese ball.
“First of all what’s great about a cheese ball is that you can stretch it, so if you’re on a budget – let’s say you’re having a party on Monday, then what you can do is you can also entertain on Tuesday or Wednesday by just saving the ball and reshaping it,” she said.
“Oh, like recycling,” Stewart replied.
Li’l Smokey Cheeseball
By Amy Sedaris
2 cups shredded smoked Gouda cheese, room temperature
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons steak sauce
1 cup toasted chopped walnuts or pecans
Ritz Crackers, for serving
1. Place Gouda, cream cheese, butter, milk, and steak sauce in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; mix until well combined. Transfer mixture to refrigerator; let chill overnight. Roll cheese mixture into a ball. Place nuts in a shallow dish. Roll cheese ball in nuts to fully coat. Serve with crackers.