You might think I’m making this up, but TODAY – April 17th – is National Cheese Ball Day!
Perhaps, like me, you have conflicted feelings about cheese balls. I remember some scary looking giant pink orbs from the cocktail parties of my parents’ era. After a few people had worked them over on the buffet table, they started to look especially sinister. And the ratio of coating to cheese ball was all wrong, too, especially if you were late to the party.
These tiny cheese balls give you all the benefits, and none of the fear. Coatings like crispy bacon bits and chopped pistachios cover perfectly proportioned, bite-sized portions of creamy, savory cheese. They’re speared by a crispy pretzel stick, so the whole appetizer is edible. You can grab one, eat it, and go back to telling your funny story with all the hand gestures.
Best of all, you can prepare these tasty treats in advance so that you can enjoy your party. This recipe appears in my easy appetizer cookbook, Small Bites (Gibbs Smith, Publisher). The beautiful photo above is by Jessica Nicosia Nadler.
Mini Cheese Balls
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons salted butter, softened
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coating (choose one or several):
*Finely crumbled crisply cooked bacon
*Finely chopped chives
*Finely chopped pistachios
*Lightly toasted white or black sesame seeds
*Finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
*Finely chopped toasted pecans
*Finely snipped dried cherries or cranberries
36 pretzel sticks
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, butter, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and pepper. Stir until well combined and smooth.
Measure out 2 teaspoons of the mixture and use hands to shape into a ball. Shape the remaining mixture into approximately 35 similarly sized balls. Roll the balls in coatings of your choice and arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill for 24 hours or freeze for up to 2 weeks (defrost overnight in refrigerator before serving). Before serving, insert a pretzel stick in the center of each ball and arrange on a platter.