Cheese balls are the perfect party food. Chances are these days, when I'm invited to a cocktail party, I show up with a cheese ball in hand. They're sort of retro, they're easy to make, and let's face it: They're fun.
"According to legend," writes Michelle Buffardi, author of Great Balls of Cheese, "the first cheese ball in recorded history was made in 1801 by Elisha Brown, Jr. on his farm and presented to President Thomas Jefferson" at the White House. It's said to have weighed 1,235 pounds and was referred to as the "mammoth cheese."
The cheese ball seemed to go underground until 1944, when a cheese ball recipe, reportedly for the first time in print, showed up in Virginia Safford's cookbook, Food of My Friends. Safford was a wildly popular columnist for the Minneapolis Star Journal who aspired to eat her way around the world. Her follow-up book, Friends and their Food (1969), features recipes for Cheese in the Round and Cheese Rolls.
The cheese ball really found its place in mid-century cuisine, but eventually developed a bad rap. Food writer Amanda Hesser wrote in The New York Times in 2003, "Cheese balls tend to be associated with shag rugs and tinsel, symbols of the middle-class middlebrow."
Perhaps that was the allure for actress, writer and comedian Amy Sedaris. Sedaris may be singlehandedly responsible for the cheese ball's revival. She and her brother David wrote a play about them, she has included them in her books, developed numerous recipes and even made them with Martha Stewart on Stewart's TV show. [Ed. note: Sedaris discussed making culinary crafts such as salt igloos and wool sausages on The Splendid Table.]
Now it seems the cheese ball is mainstream. Buffardi's Great Balls of Cheese is an entire book devoted to the subject. She asserts: "The appetizer that is literally a ball of cheese deserves much more respect." And she gives it, with more than 50 savory and sweet cheese ball recipes, including Curried Cheese Ball, Pineapple-Pineapple Cheese Balls and Lemon-Ginger Cheesecake Truffles.
Buffardi's recipe: Pineapple-Pineapple Cheese Balls
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Jennifer Russell is a founding producer at The Splendid Table. Before coming to radio, she made historical and arts and cultural programming for public television. She claims to have come out of the womb a food lover -- when other girls played house, she played restaurateur. Follow her comings and goings on Twitter: @jenejentweets.