Cheese Balls

By Lucinda Hutson
Photography by John Pozdro

This ain’t your mama’s cheese ball! Instead, sharp cheddar mingles with crushed cayenne, heady spices and freshly minced autumn herbs; tequila-spiked fruit chutney is the crowning touch. Fun and filling, savory cheese balls add delight to harvest feasts and holiday tables as appetizers or desserts. Serve them with wedges of crisp apples or pears, crackers or biscotti, or let guests slather slices of rustic bread for open-faced sandwiches, perhaps made heartier with roasted or grilled pork tenderloin or smoked turkey. 

From one basic cheddar cheese ball recipe comes the exotic Orient Express, flavored with candied ginger, coriander, curry and cayenne, then rolled in minced cilantro and studded with ruby pomegranate seeds; or the sassy Fiesta Margarita, laced with tequila, orange liqueur and orange zest, then glazed with piquant red pepper jelly and rolled in crushed, dried ancho chili; or the refined Italian Ingenue, starring chèvre, sage and brandied fig preserves, seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg and garnished with toasted Texas pecans. Think outside the ball! How about cheddar seasoned with fresh mint, cinnamon and bourbon, topped with chunky Texas pear, or Hatch green-chile chutney and Jake’s Bourbon Spiced Pecans from the farmers market?

Cheese balls are easy to make and fun to roll into logs or interesting shapes (I sometimes form the Fiesta Margarita into a saguaro cactus shape, studded with cumin seeds as “thorns” and begonia blossoms as “cactus flowers”), or simply served at room temperature from a small crock. Cheese balls do not freeze well, as the ingredients tend to develop a soggy texture. Instead, make them up to a week in advance, cover tightly and store in the fridge. Roll them in minced fresh herbs and stud with nuts or seeds just before serving. Garnish with small fresh red chilies, fresh herb sprigs and edible fall flowers from the garden.

For a thoughtful holiday gift, wrap a cheese ball on a pretty ceramic plate (made by a local potter, of course!) and deliver in a basket with a jar of homemade chutney or jelly, crackers, bread or biscotti and crunchy apples and pears—then invite yourself to stay!

Topping Cheese Balls

Home-style jams and jellies (think fall flavors: red chili, orchard fruit, pomegranate or cranberry) and chunky chutneys and preserves made from seasonal fruits make delicious toppings for cheese balls, especially when they’re not too sweet. Empty an 8-ounce jar into a small saucepan and spike with a few tablespoons of tequila or your favorite spirit or liqueur, such as Paula’s Texas Orange, or simply fresh orange or lime juice. Add some orange or lemon zest, crushed cayenne, cinnamon, nutmeg or ground coriander. Heat until melted, then cool. Glaze with spiked jellies or roll in minced cilantro or parsley, then top with chunky fruit condiments. Serve any extra topping in a small bowl at the table.

Local Ingredient Sources

Visit local farmers markets and farm stands for these and other local ingredients (click here for full listings).

Full Quiver Farms sharp raw milk white cheddar and Neufchâtel (cream) cheeses

Strykly Family Farm yellow cheddar

Wateroak Farms chèvre

Jake’s Natural Find Foods biscotti: Jake’s Jingerbread and Cranberry Pistachio

Dr. Kracker crispy flatbreads: Klassic 3 Seed, Apple Crisps, Seeded Spelt and Seedlander

• Homemade or home-style chutneys, jellies and jams like Harvest Time Pomegranate Jelly or Fig Preserves, Star Farmers Market Texas Serrano Pepper Jam, Austin Slow Burn jellies or Dai Due chutneys