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03/12/2013

~ Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover ~

IMG_3378I always knew the day would come.  Someone would corner me with the dreaded question:  "Mel, do you have a favorite recipe for a cheese ball or spread on your blog?"  

IMG_3286Yesterday was that day.  My friend Diane stopped by to return a large pot she had borrowed for chili making over the weekend.  She stayed for a friendly chat and a glass of wine, which brought up the subject of cheese and crackers (which I had spur-of-the-momently placed on the counter for us to munch on).  I could feel my face turning the color of the neon-orange and pink chunk of port wine cheese I keep hidden in my refrigerator for me to snack on when I'm alone.  I love it with apple slices.  We all have our vices!

IMG_3359(A bit about port wine cheese:  Port wine cheese is not gourmet.  It's an American snack cheese made by processing sharp cheddar, tangy cream cheese and sweet port wine. It's best served at room temperature, which renders it spreadable.  It's easy to find and is sold in chunks, rolled into nut-coated balls or logs, and/or, packed into crocks.  Homemade port wine cheese is easy to make, but it doesn't have the rainbow-like marbling.  It tends to be more of a salmon color, but, it is just as tasty!)

Mm_Back to story:  I sucked it up.  It was time to confess.  I said the words: "Port wine cheese ball rolled in toasted walnuts."  To my amazement, this 30-something friend had never tasted a port wine cheese ball. Oh, she'd seen them in the cheese isle of the grocery store, but, had never been tempted to try anything that looked so "strange" (her word). When I was her age (back in the '70's and '80's), everyone who was anyone served a port wine cheese ball or log whenever they entertained!  

I went to the refrigerator and emerged with my secret stash of port wine cheese.  By the time our visit was over, it was gone.  Today, I'm going public with my dirty little port wine cheese ball secret!

With the season six premier of Mad Men coming up in April, if you're looking for a recipe to include in your retro-themed Mad Men party menu, this is the ideal recipe! 

How would Don Draper sell this?  "Put it on a Ritz!"

IMG_32908  ounces finely-grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese

8  ounces cream cheese, or neufchatel cheese, at room temperature*

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

1  tablespoon Worcestershire

2  cups finely-chopped and lightly-toasted walnuts, or pecans

Ritz crackers and/or apple slices

*  Note:  Back in my day, everyone used cream cheese to make port wine cheese.  Nowadays French neufchatel cheese is often substituted. It's packaged almost identically to cream cheese and is located right next to it at the store. Both are dense, tangy and spreadable.  The biggest difference between the two:  the French version is made using milk exclusively (23% milk fat), and, American cream cheese is made with milk and cream (33% milk fat).  What does this mean?  Neufchatel contains about a third less fat.  The choice is yours!

6a0120a8551282970b017ee4250f49970d-320wi~ Step 1.  Chop and place the nuts in a shallow baking dish.  Roast on center rack of preheated 350 degree overn, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, about 12-15 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely, about 45-60 minutes.

IMG_3295~ Step 2.  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_3305 IMG_3298~ Step 3. 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.  When it's ready to roll you will know because ...

IMG_3315... it will be the texture of manageable cookie dough.  Divide the cheese in half.  I place the two clumps on a piece of parchment.

IMG_3322Using the palms of your hands, working as quickly as possible, form into two even-sized cheese balls (or logs if you prefer).  

IMG_3331~ Step 4.  Begin by rolling each one lightly around in the toasted walnuts until a few nuts start to stick, and...

IMG_3340... as you progress, start patting and pressing the walnuts into each ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 more hours, or up to 3 days in advance.  Remove from refrigerator 30-45 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_3339Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover:  Recipe yields 2, 8-ounce cheese balls or logs.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; shallow baking dish; food processor; rubber spatula; 2-cup food storage container; parchment paper or wax paper

6a0120a8551282970b01630343ab9a970d-320wiCook's Note:  Last year, I hosted a party for the premier of Mad Men's fifth season.  To get the entire menu, from cocktails to dessert, ~ Mel's Mad Men Premier Night Menu Revealed ~ can be found in Category 11!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

Comments

What a great idea Teresa! Duly noted!!! ~ Mel.

Mel, when you mentioned suggestions here, the first idea that popped into my head is the Dutch Baby Pancake! It would be a blast to see you do this on your blog, because it is such a fun show stopping visual when it puffs. I've heard it dates back to the early 1900's. I'd love to see your version!
P.S. My husband was thrilled to hear that you have to hide food from Joe too. Made him feel better about earning his nickname- the guppy. LOL!

Thanks Teresa! Joe loves this recipe too. Whenever I make two of these cheese balls, I have to keep one hidden from him for a couple of days because he will just keep eating until they are both gone! Besides being great tasting, retro recipes are so much fun to post. I promise to mix one in every now and then. If you have any ideas or suggestions, "I'm all ears"! ~ Mel.

Mel, your cheese ball was our dinner tonight. We ate a whole ball! LOL! Loved it. My husband doesn't like alcohol, so I wasn't sure if he would go for the port in it. He scarfed it down! :) I really enjoy the retro recipes. Keep'em comin'!

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