Old-Fashioned Pounded Cheese With Walnuts and Port Syrup From 'The New Midwestern Table'

Old-Fashioned Pounded Cheese With Walnuts and Port Syrup From 'The New Midwestern Table'
  • Yield:Makes 1 1/2 cups
  • Active time:20 minutes
  • Total time:20 minutes

[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).

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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.