Mini Cheese Balls

These are individual bite-sized versions of the classic retro cheese ball and are the perfect finger food for a party or buffet. Skewered with a salted pretzel stick, the whole thing is edible and delicious too.

Bitesized cheeseballs

I used Five Counties cheese for mine, so there is a real mixture of cheese going on, but any sharp tasting cheese combination works well if it has good flavour.

5 counties cheese

This is a really quick recipe to knock up and just the thing to serve with drinks. The cheese balls are coated in pistachios and dried cranberries for a festive touch, so they would be perfect for a Christmas party.

If you do use use pretzel sticks, just make sure you spear the cheese balls just before serving as the ends will get soft if you leave them. Alternatively, a pretty toothpick or cocktail fork would work well here, or you could just serve the sticks separately for people to spear their own.

Bitesized cheeseball

1 x 280g pack of cream cheese – at room temperature (but not essential if in a hurry)
280g of grated cheese – I used Five Counties – a cheese made up of layers of Cheddar, Derby, Double Gloucester, Cheshire and Red Leicester
1 roasted red pepper – I used some ready roasted from a jar for quickness
0.5tsp salt
0.5tsp black pepper
100g shelled pistachios
50g dried cranberries (craisins)
Extra black pepper for the coating
Salted pretzel sticks for serving

Very simply, mix together the cream cheese, grated cheese, chopped roasted red peppers and seasoning. I did this by hand with a fork, but if you are making a large batch, a mixer would make things much quicker. It is easier if the cream cheese is room temperature, but I have made this with fridge cold cream cheese and it worked just fine.

Chill for 30 minutes so that the mixture firms up and then roll into bite-sized balls.

Bitesized cheeseball1

Finely chop the pistachios and cranberries and spread over a board or large plate. Sprinkle over freshly ground black pepper and roll each ball in the mixture until coated.

Bitesized cheeseball2

Refrigerate the cheese balls until you want to serve and skewer each one with a pretzel stick just before serving.

Just the thing for a last minute Christmas drinks party.

You can make mini versions of my goats cheese ball and my smoky and spicy cheese ball too, check them out.

Pan Bagnat – Picnic Loaf

Fresh and delicious, totally portable and perfect for a summer picnic

Picnic loaf uncut

1 large pain de campagne or any other round crusty loaf. like a sourdough boule
4-5 peppers – I used red and yellow ones
2 courgettes/zucchini, sliced into strips lengthways
1-2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
400g Taleggio cheese (2 packs), Mozzarella or goats cheese – Brie also works well.
2tbs Basil pesto
3tbs Mayonnaise
Small bunch of fresh basil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper if desired
Meat option – sliced salami, ham, thinly sliced sausage, bresaola, wafer thin smoked chicken, pulled pork – anything you like, but nothing that might make it tough to cut through – like thickly sliced, air dried cuts. Eat those on the side.

This is absolutely not the traditional recipe for a Pan Bagnat, a traditional speciality from Provence, where olive oil is used and never mayonnaise. This version does use the traditional pain de champagne bread, but the filling can be anything you like really, rather than sticking with tradition. I have used Taleggio cheese this time, which is quite pungent as I had some in the fridge, but most recipes call for mozzarella. Goats cheese, Brie or thinly sliced Swiss cheese works well in this too.

This can be made well in advance of your picnic, I made this the night before so the flavours have time to mingle and develop in time for your outdoor feast. You just need to remember to take a serrated bread knife and a board with you to cut it. You can slice it before you go and re-wrap if you want to travel light.

Start by roasting the peppers until the skins turn black, I do this over the gas flame and then put them in a bowl, cover with plastic and leave to steam. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, rub off the skins and cut the ‘cheeks’ into thick slices, removing the stem and seeds. You can cheat and buy ready roasted peppers in a jar, but I really do prefer to roast my own.

While the peppers are cooling, heat a griddle pan and grill the courgette slices without oil until you have char marks on both sides. Set aside to cool.

When the vegetables are cooked and cooled, cut the top off the loaf and set to one side. Hollow out all the bread (save for breadcrumbs, croutons etc). Don’t make the walls too thin, or they will be soggy.

Mix the pesto with the mayonnaise and using a spoon, coat the inside the hollowed out shell and the underside of the bread lid.

It’s now time to layer up the vegetables, cheese, basil and a little more pesto mayonnaise.

I always like to start with a base of red peppers, cutting them if needed to fit in the base of the loaf and scattering over some torn up basil leaves.

Then add layers of courgettes, cheese, more red and yellow peppers, sliced tomatoes with a little drizzle of balsamic and more torn up basil leaves where needed. Make sure everything is pushed down and the layers compressed. I like to season with a little black pepper too. If you like a little salt on the tomatoes, then go ahead, but as the Taleggio is quite salty, I don’t bother.

Repeat until everything is used up and squashed down.

Tightly wrap the whole loaf in plastic and weigh it down with a plate and some heavy tins on top. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

Serve with hungry friends and Pimms, sangria, cold white wine or a non-alcoholic fruit punch.

Picnic loaf slice

You can also do individual versions of these in ciabatta rolls. This way, everyone can have a personalised one.

Goats Cheese Ball

Totally retro, but still delicious and a great addition to any party or buffet table.  A cheese ball is really easy to make and the variations are endless.  This one is made with goats cheese and served with green olive and roasted red pepper crackers – recipe below.


8oz/227g full fat cream cheese at room temperature
8oz/227g soft goats cheese at room temperature
1 tbs chopped dill
2tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup/175g finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup/50g finely chopped dried cranberries
Crackers for serving – see below for recipe

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the room temperature cheeses, dill and 1 tsp of black pepper and mix on low speed until well mixed.  Using a spatula, scrape out the cheese mixture, pile onto cling film and form into a ball.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours so it can firm up.

On a plate, spread out the chopped pecans, 1 tsp black pepper and cranberries and roll the ball until fully coated.  This is ready to use immediately, otherwise refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Serve with a good chutney, crackers and chilled white wine.


Olive & Roasted Pepper Crackers

Green olives and roasted red peppers make these crackers the perfect accompaniment to the cheese ball

2 cups/280g plain/all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
2 oz/57g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 tbs green olives, finely chopped
4 tbsp roasted red peppers, finely chopped – I like to roast my own, but you can buy ready roasted peppers in a jar
1/2 cup/112ml milk
olive oil
sea salt

Preheat oven to 190ºC/375°F

Line 2 baking sheets with a non stick liner or parchment paper.

Mix the flour, salt and oregano until well combined.

Add the butter and rub into the flour mixture until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Stir in the chopped olives, roasted red peppers and milk until evenly mixed.

Divide the dough in half.  Turn out one half of the dough straight onto the non stick liner and roll out to about ¼” thickness.  The thinner they are, the crispier they become and rolling out straight onto the liner means you can roll out the dough very thin.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into 2”x2” squares and remove any excess dough to re-roll.  They shrink a little as they bake, so you don’t need to worry about them sticking together or having to separate them.

Prick the top of each cracker one or twice and lightly brush tops of crackers with olive oil, finishing with a light sprinkle of sea salt.  Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Bake at 190ºC/375°F for up to 25 minutes or until crackers are golden brown.  Be careful not to let them burn.

Let the crackers cool completely before serving.