Michelle Buffardi, author of Great Balls of Cheese, joins the Clever Cookstr to share tips and tricks for making cheese balls that are perfect for game day, Halloween, cocktail parties, and everyday snacking!
Our guest today on the Clever Cookstr is Michelle Buffardi. Michelle is the culinary programing director at FoodNetwork.com as well as the author of Great Balls of Cheese, an entirely cheese ball-focused cookbook. As football season gets rolling, I thought it would be fun for Michelle to join us today and talk about some tips and tricks for making cheese balls, which I think of as the ultimate game day snack since I’m from the Midwest. Thank you so much for being here today, Michelle..
MB: Thank you for having me!
CC: Let’s talk first about the cheese ball base. What are the basics? What makes a really good cheese ball?
MB: Cream cheese is the best way to start your cheese ball. It’s malleable, it tastes good, but it’s still mild flavored enough so that it won’t overpower the other flavors in your cheese ball. Plus, it could go savory or sweet.
CC: What kind of prep do you do? Do you let the cheese come to room temperature? Do you keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to start?
MB: Let me start by saying a cheese ball is the easiest appetizer or snack you can make, so it’s perfect for game day or any party. Even a kid could make it. There’s minimal prep, but the prep that you want to do is to take your cream cheese out a half hour to hour before. It doesn’t have to be room temperature, but take it out so it gets a little softer. That will make it easier to mix up. Mix it with a spoon and a bowl or use a stand mixer if you have one or if you want. Let your cream cheese get a little bit soft, but the rest of the ingredients should be cold. So if you are adding hard cheese, like cheddar or mozzarella, you want that to stay cold until you use it.
CC: Let’s talk about those other cheeses. It seems like it would be convenient to buy the pre-shredded kind in a bag, but apparently that’s not a good idea.
MB: I always buy my own brick cheese or a block of cheese and shred it myself. The bag kind has anticaking agents in it, which will just make your cheese ball feel a little bit weird. It could be slightly grainy, so for the best results you should buy the block of cheese and shred it yourself.
CC: How about making ahead? Last Thanksgiving I made a huge cheese ball for all the people who were coming over, and it was really great to be able to have it in the fridge ready to go and then bring it out when people started to show up. Is this a good make-ahead dish?
MB: Yeah, it’s a great idea. I made one last Thanksgiving too. I always do. It’s a good thing to make the morning of or the day before an event. Just wrap it in plastic, put it in the refrigerator, set it up right before your guests arrive, and you have an easy, crowd-pleasing appetizer. It’s just one big thing that feeds a whole bunch of people. But if you’re going to be making something with nuts or herbs on the outside, a decorated cheese ball, you should definitely decorate it right before you’re about to serve it. If you put it in the refrigerator decorated, the extras could get all mushy or the ball could get a little bent out of shape.
CC: Let’s talk about decorating a little bit. I’m looking through the book right now and there are some really amazing cheese balls. There’s a cat. There’s a pineapple. There are really adorable shapes and different themes that are great for any holiday this fall. What are some of your favorite decorating tips? What are the really fun things to create?
MB: When I was trying to come up with 50 plus ideas for the book, every single thing I saw, I pictured it as a cheese ball. It was a hard number to get to, but I wanted there to be different cheese balls for all occasions, and I wanted them to be in different flavors and different shapes. I didn’t want to do one cheese ball in 50 ways. I wanted the Christmas tree to be holiday flavored because it’s served around the holidays, and it should go with the rest of the food at your table.
But for decorating tips, the produce aisle is a great place to start for savory cheese balls. Anything you see can be used as a garnish. For sweet cheese balls, check out the candy aisle. I would look for things that looked like eyes. Or any kind of herbs could be used. They taste good and make the cheese taste better—they can be used as leaves or feathers.
CC: So Michelle I’d love for you to tell me about the cheese ball passion, where it came from, and what your favorite cheese ball in the book is.