A cheeseball can be many things. If you consider the Merriam-Webster definition, a cheeseball is a person lacking taste, style, or originality. You know the type – they’re everywhere. Kind of the precursor to a hipster doofus. That’s not what we are celebrating today. I made the mistake of looking cheeseball up on Urban Dictionary and that gave me a few other definitions that I probably could have done without knowing. One involved a mixture of cocaine and cheese. Apparently drugs make a fine appetizer now. Another definition had more to do with the male anatomy and smell. I think I just learned not to use Urban Dictionary as a resource.
But in the world of food, cheeseballs are one of two things. One, they are a puffed cheese (like a cheese curl) only shaped like a ball. And two, they are a soft cheese that is molded into a ball shape and adorned with different seeds, nuts or dried fruit. Those I can work with.
I’ve worked extensively with the puffed cheese variety. When I am working in the realm of the cheeseball, I like to get the giant tub. You know the one – it’s about as big as a basketball and it is chock full of bright orange balls of cheesy goodness. I buy them for our holiday get togethers. Everyone always laughs and says I can’t believe I bought it, but then if you do a finger check fifteen minutes later, you’d be surprised what residue you find from those who eagerly partook in the allure of the ball. It’s just a good time. They are almost better than the puff variety because they are smaller, rounder and easier to pop in your mouth. I remember when Planter’s came out with cans of cheeseballs (the peanut people). They were blue cans, like oatmeal containers, and they were filled with white cheese balls. Having them in a can was a novelty, but it also made sense too because you could seal it up. This was before the chip clip was invented. I think Planter’s eventually dropped the line of these kind of snacks and decided to focus primarily on their nuts. Too bad, because I was a fan.
I was thinking about cheeseballs twice in the last few days. Once was when I saw that Clement’s was selling a brand of cheeseball that were promoted as ‘cottontails’. They were just your average white cheddar cheeseballs but just branded to resemble the back end of a fluffy bunny especially for the holiday. The same people make ‘snowball’ cheeseballs at Christmas. I’m on to their trickery. They are usually tasty, but I did not pick them up this year (and they were all gone when I checked today – I was hoping for the after Easter clearance).
The next time I was thinking about cheeseballs was yesterday on Easter when my sister had one of the giant jars of them in her pantry that I happened to notice. She thought they were too old (and I don’t know why she was still hanging on to them). I thought however that as long as the cap on the tub was on tightly, they should be ok. Air would be the enemy of any chip product and if your container is properly sealed, you should be ok in regards to freshness. But maybe I was wrong. In the end, we never tested the theory mainly because we had full bellies from a delicious Easter feast, although maybe because we were in our Sunday best and didn’t want to get cheese residue all over us.
I looked for cheeseballs today and they are not that easy to find outside of the giant tub variety. That was too much for me on a random Monday, so I went in search of a smaller package. I walked the chip aisle in both Clements and Cumberland Farms, and there were plenty of cheese puff varieties, but finding the ball shape wasn’t easy. I guess in regards to limited space on your shelves, why would you add in cheeseballs when you have perfectly fine cheese curls? The folks at Cheetos who seem to dominate the cheese puff world have the most shelf space and that’s devoted to the curls, the crunchy sticks and to their random, funky, Chester Cheetah approved shapes – but no balls. I made one last ditch effort to check at the Dollar General and lo and behold, there was a smaller bag of them from the folks at Utz. I brought them home and proceeded to have a small little feast on them, munching in all that crunchy, cheesy joy. My fingers were orange, there was cheese dust in my beard and I was content.
The other type of cheeseball has a bit of a history. According to Culture Cheese Magazine, my favorite reading material for my morning constitutional, the first cheese ball was created in the early 1800s by Elder John Leland of Cheshire, Massachusetts. Elder Leland was known for going big or going home, so he crafted a cheese ball that weighed 1,235 pounds. It was made from donated milk from over 900 cows from Cheshire and it became known as “The Mammoth Cheese.” Proud of his accomplishment and anxious to share it with President Thomas Jefferson and to show his appreciation for religious liberty, he packed it up in a wagon and began the long trek to DC preaching the word of God along the way. 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 where many old cheeseballs go to die.
Cheeseballs are often associated with the holidays when guests bring out their homemade versions usually made from cream cheese and plop them on the appetizer table to be noshed on during the Yankee Swap. But really, cheese in any form is good at any time of year and the vision of snacking on a cheeseball on a summer day with a glass of chilled wine in your hand sounds delightful. It’s not fancy – it’s just an easy and delicious snack. I picked one up at Clements in their cheese section. I could have made it myself, but it was only me today and I didn’t feel like making a fuss (plus I was still recovering from my pre-Easter activity). Clement’s had a few varieties but I decided to go with one that looked intriguing. Actually it looked kind of scary because it had a bright red and green color to it, but it was called a bacon jalapeño cheeseball and that was what was interesting to me. I picked it up along with a box of Triscuits because that’s how I roll.
It was made by Kaukauna which is a Wisconsin based company that specializes in spreadable cheese. We have picked up some of their other cheeses before, although I didn’t realize it was the same company. But their port wine cheese is always a nice addition to a low maintenance cheese plate and to be honest, that’s what this reminded me of. The outside was really covered in bright bits of green jalapeños and bell peppers, but the red hue of their bacon really stood out. I didn’t look like bacon, but I took their word for it. It was mostly cheddar and once you broke into the center, it was more cheese than bits (which was a relief). The cheddar taste was delicious – smooth, mild and just what you want in a spreadable. I didn’t really taste the jalapeño and I was kind of expecting it to be a big part of the whole taste profile and even bring the heat, but it was only on the background. The predominant taste was the bacon which had a Bacos-like flavor to it. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just a different flavor then fresh, crispy bacon. It’s a manmade flavor unique to itself. Still, this was very tasty and it spread easily across the salty Triscuit. It was the perfect way to enjoy a nice little cheese snack. I’d serve it again to guests and I’d definitely try more of their products.
That was my cheesy holiday today and I indulged in two different styles of the cheeseball (no, I never busted out the cocaine and Gruyere variety). When I heard it was cheeseball day, I immediately thought of the cheese puff variety. It’s odd how you can totally forget about a whole different way to serve up a cheeseball when your mind goes right to something you prefer. I have had the soft cheese type variety before and always been happy. In general, I would say that a cheeseball is good in any form which is why it’s odd that using that term for someone who lacks style seems out of place. I would think a person that is a cheeseball would be a pretty great person to be around. Easy, fun and just simply good. That should be the new definition of cheeseball. Take it from a true cheeseball, there’s nothing wrong with being a round sphere of cheese.
Next Up: National Animal Crackers Day