Thanks for all the e-mails after the last post about food and wine tasting different after surgery. I’m continuing to recover well, and can report that most things are tasting the way they should. I find I’m detecting a little bit more metallic taste in some foods and red wines than I used to, but that will likely fade with time.
Since I’d had surgery and general anesthesia before without any effect on taste, this time came as a surprise. But as a helpful reader pointed out, it’s a studied phenomenon. More than 20 years ago, Dr. Robert Henkin published a letter on it in the journal Anesthesiology. Henkin examined data on 59 of his patients who reported losing some or all taste sensations following surgery that wouldn’t of itself affect taste. A larger 2014 study by different physicians confirmed those results and suggested possible mechanisms. On a less scientific note, I also received a link to an account by a wine writer who reported that wine didn’t taste right after anesthesia. Apparently, I was in good company.
I’m back to eating and drinking now, although not quite as much as before surgery. I can’t say that I’ve been engaging in the January healthy eating I read about all last month. Friends brought over way too much comfort food for that! And we got a membership to a cheese club as a Christmas gift, so that didn’t help. So don’t expect something light as a recipe this time. We wanted to give friends something to eat before dinner when they visited, and we were serving plenty of whites and rosés because it’s been so unseasonably warm. Cy and I decided to combine bits of leftover cheese together to make a great cheese ball – not like the famed Hickory Farms ball of smokiness, but something a little subtler to go with lighter wines.
This is a trick cooks have known about for years. Jacques Pépin, the king of using refrigerator leftovers, demonstrated one on TV, making it in about 30 seconds. It’s a mixture called fromage fort when wine is added to the cheese. Other typical ingredients are butter, garlic, mustard, and herbs. I settled on adding thyme, a bit of scallion greens, and a little soft butter. You don’t have to make the cheese mixture into a ball, but I think it’s festive that way. Plus, you can coat the outside in chopped nuts.
The combination of cheeses is up to you, but about one-quarter of the cheese has to be fairly soft and sticky to make it work. We had some Camembert, which did the trick. It also meant I didn’t have to add other flavorings like garlic because it was nice and ripe. You could also use soft bleu cheese, or even cream cheese, but cream cheese would probably need flavorings.
Any really hard cheese has to be ground up before mixing the other cheeses in. I like to use Parmesan or Pecorino Romano for about a quarter of the mixture. Then the remaining half can be various not-quite-soft and not-quite-hard cheeses. Use a small food processor, and start with adding one tablespoon of wine at first to see if that’s enough to make it come together. If you don’t have sticky cheese you may have to add more wine or more soft butter. Hold off on adding salt until everything’s mixed and you can taste it. Most cheeses are salty enough. But definitely add salt if you need to.
If you want a little smokiness, you can add a small amount of mild smoked paprika to some chopped nuts, then roll the cheese ball in them to cover. Refrigerate for about an hour to firm everything up, then serve. This is the perfect appetizer for a Valentine’s Day meal, whether you’re eating in our out. Or serve it as your cheese course instead of dessert.
We’re having a rosé sale this month, and any one of them would be a great choice with this cheese ball recipe. If you don’t get our e-mail newsletter and want to take advantage of the sale, contact me at the e-mail address here and I’ll send you the discount code.
Thanks again for all your good wishes! Now that I’m almost back to normal you can expect my usual blog rants to come soon.
Serves 6 as a light snack
Equipment: A small food processor, about 2 cups capacity
8 – 10 ounces various cheeses at room temperature, cut in about ½ inch cubes – this is approximately 1-1/4 cups in total.
- One quarter to one third should be a soft cheese like Brie or Camembert with the rind cut off. You can also combine some blue cheese or feta with cream cheese.
- One quarter should be a sharp, hard cheese, like Parmesan or Pecorino Romano.
- The remainder can be any combination of cheeses like Cheddar, Manchego, Gouda; cheeses that aren’t too hard or too soft
1 tablespoon softened unsalted butter
1-2 tablespoons dry white wine
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons chopped scallion greens
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts or pistachios
Pinch of mild smoked paprika (optional)
Grind up the hard cheese pieces in the food processor first. Add the softened butter and process to blend. Then add the rest of the cheese, the pepper, the thyme, scallions, and 1 tablespoon of the wine. Process with pulses until the mixture stops moving. Check the texture – you should be able to squeeze the clumps of cheese together. If not, add another tablespoon of wine and process again. Taste for salt and add a little if you think it needs it.
Put the chopped nuts on a small plate and mix in the paprika if you’re using it. Remove the cheese from the processor and put it in a small bowl. Use your hands to mash it together into a ball. Then roll the cheese ball in the nut mixture and press the nuts in lightly. It won’t be completely covered, and some bits of cheese will be visible. You can use more nuts if you like, but I think this is the right amount flavor-wise.
Wrap in plastic and chill for an hour. If it’s in the fridge longer than that, take it out about 20 minutes before you plan to serve it.