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National Cheeseball Day

National Cheeseball Day celebrates two types of cheeseballs (or cheese balls). The first type are bright orange puffed corn balls that are similar in flavor to cheese curls. Airy but also crunchy, these snacks leave an orange stain on the fingers of those who eat them. The second type is molded with a softer cheese and are popular at parties, being served on trays and used as a dip for crackers. Traditional cheeseballs of this variety are made with cream cheese or cheddar cheese. Nuts, seeds, or dried fruit often decorate their outside, and they are commonly seasoned with garlic, pepper, and salt. Gourmet versions are flavored with ingredients such as Worcestershire sauce, blue cheese, olives, sherry, smoked salmon, and pineapple.

The first recorded cheeseball of the second kind was a giant one, clocking in at 1,235 pounds, and being known as the "Mammoth Cheese." It was crafted at the farm of Elisha Brown, Jr. in Cheshire, Massachusetts, in 1801. A "cheese hoop" 4 feet in diameter and 18 inches deep—which was strengthened with iron bands—held the cheese in place as it was being molded. Elder John Leland, a Baptist preacher, presented the gargantuan cheeseball to Thomas Jefferson at the White House, on New Year's Day in 1802. According to one report, it was still being served in 1805; according to another, it was tossed into the Potomac River when it got too old to eat.

Not much happened with this type of cheeseball for well over a century. A recipe for a more life-size version of it first appeared in print in 1944, in Food of My Friends, a cookbook by Virginia Safford, a columnist from Minneapolis. It became a popular mid-century food but fell out of favor in the following decades. Its fortune began to rise again in the twenty-first century, largely on account of Amy Sedaris. In 2002, with her brother David, Sedaris wrote a play called The Book of Liz, about a woman who makes cheeseballs for her religious community, Clusterhaven. Sedaris also has come up with cheeeseball recipes and showed Martha Stewart how to make one of her smoky cheeseballs on Stewart's television program.

How to Observe

Celebrate the day by eating some puffy corn cheeseballs or by dipping some crackers or other snacks into a cheeseball. If you are feeling extra festive, you could dip one type of cheeseball into the other. Although both can be found at stores, making them adds some extra excitement to the day. Many recipes for soft dipping cheeseballs can be found online, and recipes for cheeseball puffs can be found as well. Today is also the perfect day to pick up books like Food of My Friends by Virginia Safford or Great Balls of Cheese by Michelle Buffardi. If you are in the Massachusetts area, you could make a stop at the Mammoth Cheese monument in Cheshire.

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