Food & Drink

Vivian Howard’s Party Magnet

How to prepare the most infamous of party apps — the cheese ball

photo: Rex Miller

“The cheese ball is a cliché. I believe, however, that like the pig in a blanket and the baked potato, cheese balls are so clichéd they’ve actually become cool. Socially acceptable or not, when this thing is put out at a party of any kind, people hover over it like it’s a crystal ball.

Once you get used to the idea of making a cheese ball, keep a few things in mind. Bring it out at least thirty minutes before you plan on serving. This forethought will make it spreadable and allow the complexity of its flavor to come through. Also, consider doubling the recipe. A fully formed cheese ball freezes and travels nicely. And, last, keep your cracker choice simple. This is not the place for roasted-garlic Asiago Triscuits. Sea salt or plain Jane is the way to go here, possibly everywhere.” —Vivian Howard

Note: This recipe calls for dates. Please do not use pre-chopped dates from a bag. They are covered in sugar and taste like sweet cardboard. Use whole, dried dates and remove the pits.


    • ¼ cup high-quality blue cheese (I like Maytag)

    • ⅓ cup (5½ tablespoons) butter

    • ¼ cup fresh goat cheese

    • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons cream cheese

    • ¼ cup chopped dates

    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (both white and green parts work here)

    • ½ teaspoon hot sauce

    • ¼ teaspoon salt

    • 1/3 cup Salt-and-Butter-Roasted Pecans (recipe below), roughly chopped

    • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

  • Salt-and-Butter-Roasted Pecans

    • 2 cups pecan halves or pieces

    • 2 tablespoons melted butter

    • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided


  1. For the cheese ball:
    Take the blue cheese, butter, goat cheese, and cream cheese out of the refrigerator to soften 30 minutes before making your cheese-ball mixture.

  2. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all the ingredients except for the pecans and parsley. Paddle it up till homogenous. It will be loose and sticky and you’ll wonder how you’re ever going to form that mess into a ball. The answer is, you transfer the bowl to the refrigerator for 15 minutes or so. During that time the cheese mix will firm up enough for you to pat it into a sphere. Once it’s stiff enough to hold up, form the ball and roll that ball in the pecans, followed by parsley.

  3. For the salt-and-butter-roasted pecans:
    Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Toss the pecans thoroughly with the melted butter and ½ teaspoon of the salt. Spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet and slide that sheet onto the middle rack of your oven. Roast the pecans for 11 minutes if using whole pecans and 10 minutes if you’re using pieces.

  4. Bring the slightly darkened and toasty-smelling pecans out of the oven and hit them with the remaining salt. Let them cool 5 minutes before you eat them. These will keep for 7 days in an airtight container at room temperature.

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Recipe, text, and photos reprinted with permission from Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South © 2016, by Vivian Howard. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York.  All rights reserved.