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).
Reprinted with permission from The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes by Amy Thielen. Copyright 2013. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Yield:Makes 1 1/2 cups
- Active time: 20 minutes
- Total time:20 minutes
- 1/2 cup port wine
- 1 tablespoon (packed) light brown sugar
- 7 ounces aged cheddar cheese (3 years old or more), at room temperature
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) salted butter, cool but not cold
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1/3 cup walnut halves, toasted
To make the port syrup, combine the port and brown sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Simmer gently until reduced to a light syrup (it will start to throw bigger bubbles and should be the consistency of maple syrup), about 3 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
Break the cheddar cheese into chunks and drop them into a food processor. Process until pureed. Add the butter, mustard, black pepper, and cayenne and process, stopping often to scrape down the sides, until whipped and smooth.
Transfer the cheese to a shallow dish, break up the walnut halves and drop them on top, and drizzle with the port syrup. Note: The pounded cheese can be made a few hours ahead and kept at room temperature. Or it can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator; just be sure to bring it back to room temperature before garnishing with the port syrup and nuts.