It's Not a Southern Party Without a Cheese Ball–Here's Why

A cheese ball is exactly what it sounds like: A seasoned cheese spread shaped into a ball and served as playful party food. Granted, a cheese ball doesn't necessarily sound as good as it is. Some people throw major shade, suggesting that cheese balls are passé, if not déclassé. Poppycock. Fabulous homemade cheeseballs are a beloved tradition at many Southern Christmas gatherings. Delighted party-goers devour these holiday creations with pride, and crackers.

To supply us with fodder for party-time chit chat as we enjoy our cheese balls, here are some cheese ball factoids:

  • Despite their seasonal proliferation and strong association with Christmas parties, National Cheese Ball Day is April 17.
  • The first known cheese ball, according to some culinary historians, was a 1235-pound behemoth made from the milk of some 900 cows, crafted by Elder John Leland of Cheshire, Massachusetts. (Other reports say that it was not Leland who formed the cheese wheel, but a local dairy farmer named Elisha Brown, Jr.) Either way, the "Mammoth Cheese" was allegedly hauled to D.C. in a wagon and then rolled across the White House Lawn as a presentation to President Thomas Jefferson on January 1, 1801. Rumors persist that this event coined the phrase "the big cheese" to refer to people of some importance or notoriety. The Cheshire Cheese Press Monument, erected in 1940 to commemorate their great cheese ball, sits in Cheshire to this day.
  • The first known written recipe for a cheese ball appeared in Food of My Friends, a 1944 compilation of thrifty, modest, versatile party recipes compiled by Virginia Wetherby Safford, a popular columnist for the Minneapolis Star. She described the cheese ball as the signature dish of Mrs. Selmber E. Ellertson.
  • In the early 2000s, sibling humorists David and Amy Sedaris wrote a play called The Book of Liz, in which the heroine sustained her community with cheese balls, both traditional and smoky.
  • Not all cheese balls are round. One of the most popular seasonal shapes is a tapered teardrop covered in pecan halves to resemble a pinecone. Shape notwithstanding, let the good times roll.
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