Gourmet Galley: Have a (cheese) ball

Party standby may be out of vogue but still versatile

Have you noticed that cheese balls have almost disappeared from the party table? I do remember when they were in “vogue” and how proudly I served them the first time; one rolled in parsley and the other rolled in chili powder.

In recent years, it’s been “more fashionable” to serve wedges or small blocks of good, natural cheese, rather then a blend of seasoned cheeses rolled into a ball. But admit it, don’t you like a well-flavored cheese ball that spreads easily over a cracker?

I saw the recipe for Rubenstein’s Cheese Ball in two Baton Rouge cookbooks. For Baton Rougeans who remember Rubenstein’s on Government Street, famous for its cheesecakes, it obviously also made the Rubenstein Cheese Ball. That one, above, is shown plain without a coating, but it could be decorated with pecans, parsley or paprika, or try a ring of chopped nuts, herbs or seeds around the middle if you prefer.

Cheese balls can be made from any variety of cheese and rolled into any shape, or make them tiny for bite-size cheese balls. Spread them on crackers, toasts, fruit or vegetable slices.

At first, recipes for cheese balls were made with processed cheeses and powdered herbs and seasonings.

Today, more natural cheeses and those with stronger flavors are combined with fresh herbs and seasonings. That’s evident with blue cheese, Camembert and Gorgonzola cheese ball recipes we’re seeing. Roasted peppers, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms or freshly chopped herbs or vegetables can be added to cheese balls.

Besides the various cheese selections, there are wonderful crackers, flatbreads and baguette slices to go along with the cheese balls.

Cream cheese, by itself or with butter, is a popular base for a cheese ball and to that you add your favorite cheese and seasoning. The cream cheese keeps it moist and spreadable.

This is a word of advice: Most cheese balls do NOT freeze well. The cream cheese texture changes and it becomes grainy and watery.

You can make them ahead of time, and they keep well in the refrigerator for a few days — but not in the freezer.

Make the ball ahead of time, wrap it well but coat it in the nuts, herbs or seeds right before you serve it.

There are cheese balls to fit almost any occasion from southwestern to Italian. Make up your own flavors if necessary with what you have in the pantry or refrigerator. Use fresh garlic in place of dried powder or flakes for better flavor.

Carefully wrap cheese balls in plastic wrap then in aluminum foil and refrigerate until ready to serve. Remove, unwrap, roll in chopped nuts or herbs, and place on a platter about 20 minutes before your guests arrive or you are ready to serve.