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~ Dried Cherry-Berry & Walnut Holiday Cheese Ball ~

IMG_3430'Tis the season for holiday cheese balls or cheese logs.  They're in all ordinary grocery stores and specialty cheese shops, or, they can be ordered from catalogs or on-line.  For the most part, they are a popular addition to the holiday nosh table -- given to the right person, they make a thoughtful gift too.  They pair great with any type of wine or champagne and almost any cocktail. Did you know these tasty (and often pricey) cheese balls are really easy to make at home?

IMG_3365 IMG_3340Back in the 1970's and 1980's, port wine cheese, and, the relatively inexpensive store-bought "port wine cheese ball" rolled in walnuts was a very trendy snack.  Port wine cheese is not gourmet.  It's an American snack cheese made by processing yellow sharp cheddar, tangy cream cheese and sweet port wine.  It's best served at room temperature, which renders it spreadable.  It's sold in slabs/chunks, rolled into nut-coated balls or logs, and/or, packed into pretty porcelain crocks.  

Homemade port wine cheese is super-easy to make in a food processor, but:  it won't have the signature neon-pink rainbow-like marbling.  It's a solid color, but, is every bit as tasty:

IMG_3455For full retro cheese ball affect:  "Put it on a Ritz!"

IMG_32908  ounces finely-grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese

8  ounces cream cheese, or neufchatel cheese*, at room temperature, very soft (Note: Remove from the refrigerator two hours in advance.)

1/4  cup inexpensive port wine, a fortified Portuguese wine

1  tablespoon Worcestershire

1  cup finely-chopped dried cherry, blueberry, cranberry and golden raisin blend (2 ounces each)

3/4  cup finely-chopped walnuts (about 6 ounces)

Ritz crackers, for serving

IMG_3452*Note:  Back in my day, everyone used cream cheese to make all types of cheese balls. Nowadays neufchâtel cheese is often substituted. It's packaged almost identically to cream cheese and located right next to it at the store. Both are dense, tangy and spreadable.  The biggest difference between the two:  the neufchâtel is made using milk exclusively (23% milk fat), and, cream cheese is made with milk and cream (33% milk fat).  What does this mean?  

Neufchâtel contains about a third less fat.  To learn more, click on the Related Article link below. 

IMG_3295Step 1.  Place the cheddar cheese, cream cheese, port wine and Worcestershire sauce in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 30-40 rapid on-off pulses, process until cream cheese is incorporated. Open the lid and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Return the lid and turn the motor on, to process until smooth, about 20-30 seconds.

IMG_3305IMG_3298Step 2. Carefully remove the steel blade from the processor.  Using the spatula, transfer mixture to a food storage container and refrigerate until cheese is firm enough to remove from container, about 2 hours or longer (until it's the texture of stiff manageable cookie dough).

IMG_3406~ Step 3.  While the cheese mixture is chilling, chop the dried fruit and the walnuts as directed.

Note:  In one of my local markets (Sam's Club), I purchase 12-ounce bags of sweetened, dried "berry blends".  I keep a bag or two on-hand in my freezer at all times.  The blend I like best contains a combination of dried tart cherries, blueberries and cranberries.  I just chop half a bag (6 ounces) up along with 2 ounces of golden raisins, plus the walnuts.  Easy.

IMG_3416 IMG_3418 IMG_3422 IMG_3423~Step 4.  Remove the cheese mixture from the refrigerator and divide it in half.  I like to use a kitchen scale as a measure.  Place the two clumps on a piece of parchment or wax paper. Using the palms of your hands, while working as quickly as possible, form into two even-sized cheese balls (or logs if you prefer).  You will have, two, 8-ounce cheese balls or cheese logs:

IMG_3424~ Step 5.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 more hours, or up to 3 days in advance.  Remove from refrigerator and allow to soften, 30-45 minutes, prior to serving with crackers: 

IMG_3451Dried Cherry-Berry & Walnut Holiday Cheese Ball:  Recipe yields 2, 8-ounce cheese balls or logs, approximately, 16-20 Ritz-cracker-sized portions per ball or log.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; large rubber spatula; 4-cup measuring food storage container w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; ; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; kitchen scale (optional) parchment or wax paper

IMG_3695Cook's Note: Dips and spreads are also quinessential holiday noshes. One of my favorites, which is popular and appropriate any time of of the year is:  ~ Pretty in Pink:  A Simple Smoked Salmon Spread ~. You can find my recipe in Categories 1, 9, 14, 22 or 26.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)


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