Last-minute food gift

Stuck for a gift for an impossible-to-buy-for friend or relative?  Owe the neighbors an annual token of neighborliness?  Get out the food processor and make up a cheese ball or two.  Homemade cheese spread is also a diabetic-friendly gift, appreciated by many who face the annual onslaught of cookies, cakes, pies, and pralines with trepidation and concern.

This year, I decided to pack the cheese ball into winter-themed plastic containers, based on the theory that no one likes to re-serve a ragged, half-eaten cheese ball (and not every cheese ball gets eaten on the first go-round).  Glass canning jars work well, as do recycled jam and jelly jars.  (Dollar stores are full of potential festive containers.)  For visual appeal, alternate layers of cheese spread with chopped nuts or a tiny bit of smoked paprika.

Tuck seeded crackers, pretzel rods, bagel chips, or celery and carrot sticks  into a cellophane bag to accompany the cheese spread.   Now you can check grumpy Uncle Ed off of your to-do list.

Cheese ball (or spread)

  • 8 oz extra-sharp cheddar
  • 2 oz aged parmesan
  • 2 oz pecorino romano
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed
  • 5-15 drops Tabasco, to taste
  • chopped nuts (sunflower seeds, almonds, pecans)
  • smoked paprika (optional)

Using a food processor, finely shred the cheeses.  Swap the shredding blade for chopping blade, and add the cream cheese, worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, celery seed, and Tabasco.  Process in pulses until the mixture is completely blended.  Depending on your preference, continue to process until uniform in color, or leave a few bits of shredded cheese for a chunkier texture.

Like  a spicier spread?  Add more Tabasco.  Want a pimento-cheese flavor?  Dump in a jar of diced pimentos, drained, along with the other seasonings.  Go south Asian–add a bottle of your favorite chutney and some roasted peanuts.  Substitute a nice Gruyere for the cheddar, adding a drop or two of Kirsch, for a “fondue” spread.  Or, clean out the refrigerator cheese drawer (doesn’t everyone have a cheese drawer?), using 2 to 4 oz odds and ends of various hard & soft cheeses.  A clove of garlic is a wonderful addition, but raw garlic quickly turns strong and gamy.  I generally leave it out unless I know the spread will be consumed within a day or two; ditto for fresh parsley, green onions, or chives.

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