[Photograph: Jennifer May]

Making pounded cheese from Amy Thielen's new cookbook, The New Midwestern Table, was a jump into uncharted territory for me. Dropping blocks of gorgeous aged Cheddar into a food processor was an act of faith. How could this cheese not break down and turn into a greasy pile of cheese ooze? The secret is in the cool butter: adding it to processed cheese brings the mixture right back into alignment, turning that purée into a creamy spread. Drizzled with sweet port syrup and chopped walnuts, the final dish is an entertainment-worthy appetizer for any and all cheesehounds.

Why I picked this recipe: I had never even heard of pounded cheese before this week, but how could the combination of aged cheddar, butter, and port syrup be bad?

What worked: Like magic, a few spins in a food processor with most of a stick of butter turns a block of sharp aged cheddar into a grown-up, funky version of EZ Cheez. And I mean this in the best way possible. Spread it on a few Ritz crackers and you'll understand.

What didn't: Make sure to follow the directions carefully. The processed cheese really needs the addition of cooler butter to turn it into a smooth mixture without breaking.

Suggested tweaks: If you're not into port, you could drizzle the cheese with maple syrup or serve it with a thinned jam (currant or blackberry would be quite nice).

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The New Midwestern Table to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, KQED's Bay Area Bites, and Berkeleyside NOSH. Follow her @KateHWiliams.

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