Have you noticed all the pimento cheese around the Twin Cities these days? It’s on the menu at Revival, Surly’s Brew Hall, and Como Dockside to name a few—pimento cheese was even deep fried at the Minnesota State Fair this year!!
As you may know, pimento cheese is wonderful—Sean Brock of Husk makes a superb version. But while pimento cheese is the Southern tradition of grating up cheese and mixing it up with stuff, we here in the North have our own tradition of mixing up cheese with stuff, and our tradition is just as grand. It’s called: The Cheese Ball. Say it loud, say it proud! Cheese ball! It just makes you smile, doesn’t it? No one can be too fancy when you’re saying cheese ball.
And yet, have you given deep thought to the cheese ball lately? In fact, cheese balls are uniquely associated with the Twin Cities, the first published recipe might just be in 1944 by former Minneapolis Star Journal food writer Virginia Safford, who published the recipe from one Mrs. Selmer F. Ellertson of Minneapolis. It was made with blue cheese. And considering that American blue cheese, made from pasteurized cow’s milk, was pioneered in Iowa in 1941, it makes sense that Minneapolis would have been one of the first markets. As the South is to pimento cheese, is the North to the cheese ball? Possibly, yes. But where are they on our restaurant menus?
The only version I know of currently is at The Strip Club in St. Paul, where they’re called cheese truffles. “Every year we put one of these cheese balls or molded cheeses on our menu,” chef and co-owner J.D. Fratzke explained to me. “One year we did a blue cheese with roasted garlic rolled in sage, rosemary, and crushed pistachio—true to our style we called them Blue Balls.” Right now the Strip Club cheese truffles have Hook’s blue cheese and Stickney Hill Chevre, rolled in pimenton and crushed almonds, served with a pickled onion and raisin relish. There’s a great customer demand for these cheese balls, “We sell the snot out them,” says Fratzke.
Chef Landon Schoenefeld, of Haute Dish and Nighthawks, has made cheese balls by request for weddings; “I did one a couple years ago that was huge, the size of three people’s heads, lined up. Instead of saving a piece of wedding cake to eat a year later, they froze a slice of the cheese log!” Schoenefeld says his standard cheese-ball recipe is an aged cheddar or a combination of cheeses paddled in to cream cheese, and hopped up with piquillo peppers and espelette pepper, then rolled in pecans, walnuts, or Marcona almonds. “I never went to a family gathering without a cheese ball or a cheese log,” remembers Schonefeld, who grew up in South Dakota. “That and a box of Ritz crackers is a must. I don’t recall that you can just buy [cheese balls or cheese logs] they were something someone had to make.”
So this. I say let’s make 2016 the year of the cheese ball—or cheese log. Chefs, put them on your restaurant menus! Civilians, post pics of your cheese balls and cheese logs! Let’s use the hashtag: #MSPCheeseBall and get some Northern pride up around these glorious balls of glorious cheese. If we get enough cheese ball pride we will run a follow up story and share recipes. And if we play our cards just right, maybe we can get a groundswell going, and in a decade or so we can hit the restaurants of Georgia and South Carolina and find real Northern style cheeseballs everywhere.