Cheese Ball

Cheese ball recipe

The French concept of terroir, a confluence of elements – soil, atmosphere, weather, and other factors – that gives something a certain taste or flavor to foods and wine, is often spoken of as an elusive concept outside of France. But it does exist in the United States, as well as other countries. We just don’t have a word for it. The French, being so good with words and language, and seemingly having a word for everything – of course, do.

In France, each cheese and wine has a certain provenance that gives them specific characteristics. For example, you can’t make a Brie de Meaux outside of the Brie region, and Camembert de Normandie must come from Normandy. In the U.S., there are the merits of Texas pecans versus Arizona pecans to debate. Are Georgia peaches better than California peaches? And if you want to really get into it, one just needs to mention barbecue, and you know you’ve stepped into a minefield of tastes, and opinions.

Dates for Cheese ball recipe

The cuisine of the south seems to inspire the most boasting of all the regions in the United States. I know that good food isn’t specific to any particular region, or country. (However if you’re going to serve me a lobster roll, it’s got to be on a toasted pull-apart bun, filled with big chunks of warm lobster bathed in melted butter, Connecticut-style.) I was leafing through Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard, a thick book of recipes rooted in North Carolina, what she calls “her corner of the south.”

I was intrigued by Mulled Muscadines and Whipped Feta Toast, made with grapes indigenous to her region, a curious Pork Shoulder steak braised in red curry with Watermelon (which she says becomes similar to long-cooked tomatoes, which definitely makes me want to try that one out), and Dried Apple Chips, although I’m not sure how long a string of apple slices strung between two posts would last on a sidewalk in Paris. We’ve taken to planting nettles in our planter boxes, to thwart the rampant plant-pilfering.

Cheese ball recipe

When I landed her recipe for a Party Magnet, a low-fallutin’ name for a cheese ball, I thought it’d be fun to give that one a go. I’m always looking for things to serve during the apéro hour, and also looking for ways to use up odd and ends of leftover cheese, like the French do with Fromage Fort.

The recipes are written in everyday, folksy language, but without being cheesy. (Unlike the pun that I just used.) Vivian Howard talks in plain language about what to look out for in a recipe, such as not to use date “pieces,” which are dates mixed with flour, or not to flip out because the cheese mixture is too soft after you paddle it up in your stand mixer. Chilling the mixture will make it easy to shape into a ball. I felt well taken care of when reading through the instructions, and putting the boule de fromage together.

Cheese ball recipe

But no matter how well-written a recipe is, there are some things you just can’t control. In this case, my camera died just as I was starting to put the cheese ball together. Going with the flow, I put the project on hold for a couple of days until it got out of the shop.

So I can say for sure that for those of you into do-ahead projects, this cheese ball is one of them and can be made a few days in advance. Or, you can organize all the ingredients, and they’ll keep a few days until your camera gets out of the shop, in advance of sharing the recipe with friends.

Cheese ball with cherry jam recipe

Cheese Ball
Print Recipe
6 to 8 servings
Adapted from Deep Run Roots by Vivian Howard You can use any kind of dried fruit to mix into this cheese ball. I stuck with dates, but suspect that dried cranberries or cherries would give it a wintery, festive feel, if you serve it around the holidays. For the hot sauce, I used Mexican hot sauce, but Tabasco, Sriracha, harissa, or another favorite spicy condiment, would work. Cream cheese in France is called pâte à tartiner or fromage à tartiner (spreading paste or cheese), and can be found is grocery stores. If you can't find fresh goat cheese, feta would work. (Since feta can be quite salty, add salt to taste.) You won't need all the butter-roasted pecans, but leftovers are great as a snack, or tossed with salads or steamed green beans.
For the butter roasted pecans
3/4 cup (75g) pecans
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt, plus a sprinkle more
For the cheese ball
1/3 cup (2 ounces, 55g) butter
1/4 cup (35g) crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup (40g) crumbled fresh goat cheese
6 tablespoons (3 ounces, 85g) cream cheese
1/4 cup pitted, chopped dates
2 tablespoons minced scallions or chives
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup (35g) chopped butter-roasted pecans
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
For the butter-roasted pecans
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
2. Toss pecans with the melted butter and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt. Spread them on a baking sheet and bake, stirring once or twice during baking, until they're toasted, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove them from the oven, sprinkle and toss with a bit more salt. Let cool then coarsely chop 1/3 cup (35g) of the pecans. (The butter-roasted pecans can be made a few days in advance and stored in an airtight container.)
For the cheese ball
1. Put the butter, blue cheese, goat cheese, and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and let come to room temperature. (You can also make this by hand, in a medium-size bowl, using a sturdy stirring utensil.)
2. Add the chopped dates, scallions or chives, hot sauce, and salt to the bowl with the cheeses and butter. Attach the paddle attachment to the mixer and mix the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Taste, and add a bit more hot sauce if desired. Refrigerate the mixture until chilled enough to handle and shape, about 30 minutes or so.
3. Spread the chopped pecans on a dinner plate. Shape the chilled cheese mixture into a ball and roll it in the pecans. Spread the chopped parsley on the plate and roll the cheese ball in the parsley.

Serving and storage: The cheese ball should be served at room temperature. It can be made a few days ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve. It's best served with plain crackers along with a favorite jam, such as cherry jam or apricot jam, or tangy chutney, such as fig chutney or green tomato-apple chutney.

Cheese Ball

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  • dominique
    October 18, 2016 2:41pm

    Vivian’s red curry pork shoulder with watermelon is amazing! The recipe is on A Chef’s Life website and I made it right after the show aired while watermelon was still in season.

    • Miki
      October 20, 2016 11:37am

      I had bought pork shoulder and watermelon yesterday so I made it. I used a pressure cooker and had honey apple cider vinegar. Tasted pretty good and the kids loved it. I would have preferred more spices. Next time.

  • I used to think that I knew how to make a cheeseball, but I can see now that I haven’t been nearly purposeful or careful enough.

    This post reminds me that I need to slow down in the kitchen, and take as much pride in the process as I do in the final product.

  • October 18, 2016 2:55pm

    I think that a string of apples left out to dry would be covered with flies. Hmmm.
    This cheese ball looks delish. I love the little rounds of chèvre that are covered with cranberries, cracked pepper, herbs or other things.
    I rarely see cheese for apéro though, except for those horrid individually packaged squares. The cheese ball would be a good thing to get going in France.

  • R. Brite
    October 18, 2016 3:29pm

    I LOVE cheese balls, but would think they’d totally freak out French guests.

  • Penny
    October 18, 2016 5:28pm

    Any suggestions to replace the dates? Thank you.

    • October 18, 2016 5:29pm
      David Lebovitz

      In the headnote, I suggested dried cranberries or cherries, but apricots or figs (diced) would be nice as well.

      • Penny
        October 18, 2016 5:30pm

        Thank you. I saw that too late. :)

      • Gigi
        October 19, 2016 4:51am

        Yeah, I was just thinking apricots. Trader Joe’s has the best dried Blenheim apricots. I love them and I don’t even really like dried fruit. :) Also think your idea of cranberries or cherries would be wonderful!

    • Penny
      October 18, 2016 5:29pm

      Never mind, I just read the WHOLE recipe. Sorry.

  • Debbie
    October 18, 2016 5:44pm

    Definitely making for the family Sinterklaas party in early December. The Dutch will love it!

  • Susan
    October 18, 2016 5:51pm

    The recipe looks yummy and the presentation is lovely. I do not like blue cheese, do you have a suggestion for a substitute?

    • October 18, 2016 6:00pm
      David Lebovitz

      It depends on where you live (and what’s available) but something semi-soft, strong and pungent would work. I’d visit a local cheese shop, if you have one, to ask for suggestions – and tastes!

      • Lynn D.
        October 18, 2016 8:00pm

        Hello David,

        Just wondering what your favorite crackers are? ,(This cheeseball looks GREAT!)

        Lynn D.

    • Gigi
      October 19, 2016 4:53am

      Do you have a Trader Joe’s? Their Castello Bleu cheese is really good – softer and a bit milder than most blues. Actually, come to think of it, you might find Castello at other stores, too.

  • October 18, 2016 6:05pm

    Oh my, you have complete ruined my image of a cheese ball.

    I am pretty sure that after one taste of this globe-shaped goodness, Hickory Farms Cheese Balls will be removed my memory banks. Thank you!

  • Olivia Hamele
    October 18, 2016 6:12pm

    Thanks for all of your wonderful recipes! Your photos are scrumptous, too. Not to take away from your artistry, but what camera and lens do you use?

    Thanks! I did a post on my camera and related equipment here – dl

  • October 18, 2016 6:21pm

    Thank you for the print option. Much appreciated.

  • Toni McCormick
    October 18, 2016 6:22pm

    David, you can get pecans in France? How about dried cranberries? I prefer Louisiana pecans, then Alabama, followed by Georgia. I just read that the “truffles” grown at the base of pecan trees are now a “chef” thing. For years farmers considered them a nuisance but now they’re an illusive sought after ingredient. The “truffles” have a pronounced pecan flavor rather than the truffle flavor. Which REALLY appeals to me! Just can’t acquire the taste for truffles!

    • October 18, 2016 6:44pm
      David Lebovitz

      I bring my own pecans over from the U.S. because the ones you get in France, I find, aren’t usually all that fresh. We do get dried cranberries nowadays, although I’ve used dried barberries (available at stores that specialize in Iranian and Middle Eastern ingredients), to be a great replacement.

  • Elizabeth Galloway
    October 18, 2016 6:29pm

    Sounds and looks like a wonderful idea for a Thanksgiving appetizer. I will add it to my menu. One ingredient I find perplexing though is the butter added to the cheese mixture. Having other creamy buttery cheeses as ingredients it doesn’t seem necessary, unless to soften the bite of the blue cheese?

  • Chrystina Powers
    October 18, 2016 6:58pm

    I always thought the French would be terribly confused at the sight of a cheese ball haha. I especially appreciate your comments on terroir. I studied French at university and became so intrigued with the notion of terroir that I ended up writing my senior thesis about it. And now I love realizing the American terroir, which is something I was totally blind to until my early twenties. Lends to a deeper appreciation of food. So cool. Keep on!

  • melinda
    October 18, 2016 7:08pm

    I wonder if Vivian’s restaurant in Kinston, NC is ok since that town had severe flooding (and may still)

    • Lisa McCave
      October 21, 2016 2:02am

      Hello, Melinda. (are you ‘lost’?)… haha. The Chef and the Farmer reopened Oct 18 according to their Facebook page ( One of my New Bern, NC aunt’s favorite restaurants, Kinston is still struggling to clean up after the horrible hurricane there. The hurricane wasn’t as bad as the flooding which continues. Many are having a very very difficult time recovering but The Chef and Farmer is back at it serving their gourmet food. Lisa in Indianapolis, IN

    • Lisa McCave
      October 21, 2016 2:09am

      Melinda – oopsie. I didn’t read enough to see David quotes her in his post. Lisa

  • October 18, 2016 7:38pm

    Replacing the dates with dried apricots and the pecans with pistachios would totally make this for me. As it stands I suspect it would be too sweet for my taste.

    • Gigi
      October 19, 2016 4:55am

      I love pecans, but wow do I think pistachios would be great with this – adding a bit of salt. As for pecans, I think it would be amazing with Southern candied pecans – they’re addictive on their own anyway. Of course, LOL, that would certainly increase the sweetness, but also add the hint of cayenne to balance it, and the cream cheese out.

  • Bev Burgoyne
    October 18, 2016 8:33pm

    Your directions call for 3/4 c. of pecans, 1/3 c. of which you direct to coarsely chop. However, there is no indication of what to do with the rest of the 3/4’s c. which are unchopped. Where are they included in the directions for this recipe?

    • October 18, 2016 8:37pm
      David Lebovitz

      In the headnote of the recipe, I wrote “You won’t need all the butter-roasted pecans, but leftovers are great as a snack, or tossed with salads or steamed green beans.” It seemed like a good idea to do a few more, rather than just the 1/3 cup called for in the recipe.

  • Deborah W.
    October 18, 2016 8:51pm

    We came across a vendor @ a Saturday market in the Loire valley that sold goat cheese balls covered with a variety of toppings, both savory & sweet. We chose one with chopped fresh tarragon, garlic and cracked pepper. Part of an impromptu lunch on the banks of the river Cher on a crisp autumn day. Delicious.

  • Catpainter67
    October 18, 2016 8:59pm

    A real “foodie” take on the humble cheese ball – I will be using your recipe during the holidays. My mom always concocted some wonderfully crafted ones with leftover cheeses, hot sauce, caraway or horseradish or a drop or two of worcestershire and assorted combinations from her panoply of condiments, spices and herbs. They were always spicy, a little sharp, and very popular with our guests in the 50’s and 60’s. Purchased ones always tasted so artificial and lackluster compared to the ones she created. This recipe takes me back 60 years, at least! Thanks for bringing them back to us.

  • corine
    October 18, 2016 9:08pm

    J’adore. I love this so much. You never cease to amaze us.

  • Gavrielle
    October 18, 2016 9:20pm

    I’m slightly nervous that this will be *too* good, but I’m going to give it a try anyway! Only one problem – you use a phrase I’m not familiar with: “leftover cheese”. Cheese that…hasn’t been eaten? Surely that can’t be right. That would never happen.

  • Elena
    October 18, 2016 9:25pm

    Whatever you give to us is wonderful.
    Thank you very much!

  • Laurie
    October 18, 2016 9:42pm

    Nettles will do the trick! I knew a farmer in Sonoma who planted them with his field crops. I think they added nutrients to the soil…? I love this cheese ball recipe. As the one who usually brings the cheese to a monthly gathering, I will be bringing this
    cheese ball next month! Thank you!

  • Bricktop
    October 18, 2016 9:43pm

    Oh yeah, so if the French have a word for everything, what’s their word for “shallow” as in water? :-)

    Back on topic, cheese balls rock. This reminds me to make it for pre-Thanksgiving dinner noshing. Which is the best part of the meal, IMO.

    • Heather
      October 20, 2016 8:30pm

      Eau peu profond

      • Bricktop
        October 21, 2016 2:24pm

        Exactly, there isn’t one. That’s more of a description, “a little deep”. Like saying lukewarm water (tiede) is “eau peu chaud”. I woke up on the pedantic side of the bed the other day. :-D

  • Cour
    October 18, 2016 10:08pm

    What wine is pictured in the background? I’ve had it but don’t remember the name. Thanks!

  • Lorayne
    October 18, 2016 10:36pm

    Your cheeseball recipe sounds delicious, thanks for sharing David :)

  • October 18, 2016 11:39pm

    Look delicious. I knew there’s a better way to make a cheeseball and this is it! I also love that there’s a print version. This would be a wonderful appetizer.

  • nancy
    October 18, 2016 11:43pm

    Think I’d rather have Fromage Fort any day. Two entirely different concepts tho..I’m just not that into sweet cheeses. Thanks for the link to FF.

  • Suzy
    October 19, 2016 2:45am

    Just thinking about making a Cheeseball ! Have some really good ones from over the years, 70’s and onward. Have one I love with Green Pepper and Pineapple and has Accent in it then rolled in Candied Pecans ! Will send it if you want it ! Going to make this one for the Sukkah. Ty

    • Jacklyn
      October 19, 2016 7:50am

      What is Accent?

      • the gold digger
        October 19, 2016 8:34pm

        Isn’t it MSG?

  • Liz
    October 19, 2016 3:02am

    This looks like the Cadillac of Southern cheeseballs. I’m not crazy about goat cheese, so is there anything you could recommend as a substitute for that component? Would Queso Fresco work?

  • Karen
    October 19, 2016 3:25am

    Thank you for the recipe for the butter roasted pecans. I have been a long time fan of Young Plantation’s version from Florence, South Carolina. Can’t wait to compare- and make the cheeseball this holiday season!

  • berit
    October 19, 2016 2:31pm

    This look divine, will do that when my parents come for visit but with slivered almonds instead of pecans because you cannot really get the latter here in a good quality.

    Also, from the pictures I first thought the middle of the cheeseball was liquid and got all excited :D Still great!

  • HK
    October 19, 2016 5:28pm

    Nut allergy here….I wonder if you have a suggestion. For a replacement??

    • October 19, 2016 5:36pm
      David Lebovitz

      Sure, pumpkin seeds would work.

  • October 21, 2016 12:53pm

    I´m always looking for little treats to serve during the apéro hour, too, so this recipe is just what I need. The perfect addition to the usual gougères. Again such a wonderful post, David!
    PS: may I add I just linked back to one of your older posts from 2008 (grape sherbet), but couldn´t leave a note there, so I´m doing it here. Hope you´re ok with that!

  • Patricia
    October 23, 2016 2:34am

    I think I will have rose-hip jam with it (seems to be the latest fad in Canada).

  • Carole
    November 4, 2016 12:24pm

    What kind of dates did you use?

  • Nancy H.
    November 10, 2016 2:40am

    Do you think the crackers are something we can get in the States?
    They look really good! Do you mind sharing the brand and type? Thanks…

    • November 10, 2016 12:02pm
      David Lebovitz

      Those are the 100% whole-grain Wheat Thins, which I used (I made this in the States for a party). I think most supermarkets carry them. The author of the book I adapted this from said not to use fancy-schmancy crackers, so I thought they were a good choice : )

  • Carolyn Z
    November 10, 2016 7:56am

    Congratulations on the Print Icon that now shows up on the recipes! Sorry if I’m late thanking you for this wonderful feature. Good Job!