Today, friends, I am here to talk about one of my favorite cheese spreads, port wine cheese. Whether you pack it into a crock or roll it into a port wine cheese ball studded with spiced pecans and herbs, this retro appetizer classic is sharp and delicious!
I grew up eating port wine cheese, or rather sneaking it from the crock in the door of the fridge, and my copycat port wine cheese recipe is pretty much a dead ringer for my favorite childhood cheese spread.
Another delicious appetizer is my spicy smoked pimento cheese recipe.
For ease of browsing, here are all of my appetizer recipes in one place. Thanks for stopping by!
Consider serving your cheese ball with homemade Ritz crackers.
Port Wine Cheese Ball, At a Glance
✔️Skill Level: Beginner
✔️Skills: Reducing a liquid on the stove, using a food processor, cooking nuts on the stove top
✔️Number of Ingredients: 5 for the cheese ball and 4 for the pecans
✔️Prep Time: 20 minutes
✔️Cook Time: 18 minutes to reduce the port
✔️Yield: 1 cheeseball weighing about 1 pound
Jump Straight to the Recipe
What Is Port Wine Cheese?
Honestly, it is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
Port wine cheese is a cheese spread that gets mixed with a good amount of port, specifically ruby port, and then it’s shaped into a ball or log, or sometimes just packed into crocks.
The whole point of port wine cheese is that it is hard to stop eating, so you will definitely want to make some!
What Makes This Port Wine Cheese the Best?
Most of the other “copycat” recipes for port wine cheese I’ve seen online either direct you to blend straight port in with all the cheese, which I think lends a harsh edge from the alcohol, or they make a sort of “port Jell-o” made with port and gelatin and then layer that in with the cheese spread.
Since gelatin is an animal product, when you use it in an otherwise vegetarian recipe, you are automatically turning it into a non-vegetarian recipe.
And the gelatin isn’t necessary anyway, especially if you make a reduction. Which leads me to another reason this cheese spread is the best:
The truly magical ingredient in my port wine cheese is the port reduction.
Reducing the port by a factor of 8 yields a thick, intense, and sweet port wine reduction or syrup bursting with the pure essence of port without the excess alcohol that can lend a harsh quality to the spread or the excess liquid that could potentially cause the cheese ball to weep.
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If you’re ready to get started, go ahead and jump straight to the recipe. Otherwise, read on to see how to make port wine cheese, step by step.
How to Make This Cheese Ball
First you’ll gather your ingredients.
Here’s what you’ll need. It’s a surprisingly short list:
- ruby port: Don’t use tawny port. It doesn’t have the same sugar content and won’t be sweet and syrupy. Plus it won’t be the wrong color. You’ll reduce a whole bottle of port down to about 3.5 oz
- extra sharp cheddar cheese: You need the zing of extra sharp cheese to shine through the sweet port reduction, so no medium cheddar here
- cream cheese: Lends spreadability and creaminess
- half and half: Thins the mixture enough that it stays spreadable even straight from the fridge
- kosher salt: Adds flavor and counteracts any possible bitterness. You’ll use some in the cheeseball and also in the pecans
- pecans: You could use another type of nut, but pecans are a southern classic. Leave them whole and then chop them after they cool. If you try to toast them after chopping, there’s a much higher risk that they’ll burn
- butter: For cooking the pecans
- smoked paprika: While technically optional, I do like the slight smoky edge of the smoked paprika. Use sweet paprika or even a bit of chili powder if you prefer, or leave it out entiely and just cook the pecans in butter and salt
- chopped fresh herbs: optional. Use your favorite herbs or just roll in the spiced pecans and call it a day
Making the cheeseball is easy, although you need to use a food processor. If you have one, you’re good to go.
First, you’ll make your port wine reduction (Jump to That Section)
Once you have your reduction, gather the rest of your ingredients.
Make sure your cheese and cream cheese are at room temperature. It’s okay to have the half and half straight from the fridge, but it’ll be easiest to blend the cheeses when they’re a bit warmer and softer.
Process the cheese and cream cheese in pulses, and then let the machine run.
Combine port reduction with the half and half and salt, and then pour that through the feed tube in the processor.
Let the processor run until the cheese spread is completely smooth.
Remove 2/3 of the cheese spread to a bowl, and then add more port reduction to the remaining third, processing until a uniform purple color. You’ll probably need to scrape the bowl a couple of times to make sure the sticky port syrup is all blended in.
Then, spread plastic wrap on the counter and cross it with another sheet of plastic wrap, making sort of an “X.”Randomly plop on the orange and purple cheeses until you’ve used it up and you have a pile of cheese on the plastic wrap.
Pull the end up around the cheese and twist it tightly to form a ball.
Chill it, and then roll them in your toasted, chopped pecans.
How to Make a Port Wine Reduction
Making a reduction, port wine or otherwise, is very easy to do.
Just measure out the amount of liquid to begin with, decide how much you want to reduce it by (by half? by four? etc), and then boil it on the stove until it reaches that amount.
For example, if you want to reduce 1 cup of liquid by half, you would periodically measure your simmering liquid until it measures 1/2 cup.
If you’re reducing it by a factor of 4, you’ll want to simmer it until your initial cup measures 1/4 cup.
For the port, you’ll reduce it by a factor of 8, ending up with about 3.5 oz of port reduction.
You’ll know you’re getting close when the port bubbles up to fill the pan and small bubbles are popping all over the surface.
Watch your heat, because you don’t want it to boil over. Periodically remove the pan from the heat and pour it into a measuring cup. You’re looking for the level to reach between the 1/4 and 1/2 cup markings.
And that is all there is to it. Let your port reduction cool, and you’re good to go.
Cooking the Pecan Coating
You’re welcome to roll your cheese ball in sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, or whatever you like.
If you are a pecan lover, you owe it to yourself to cook up some pecans in a skillet, though.
Melt some butter in your pan, and add pecans, salt, and paprika (or whatever spice/s you choose to use).
Cook, stirring constantly, until the pecans darken in color and the butter is very foamy. This will take about 5 minutes.
Spoon the pecans out onto a few layers of paper towel to drain. Leave the excess butter, if any, in the pan.
Once the pecans have cooled, chop them up fairly finely with a chef knife.
Now all that’s left to do is roll the cheese ball in the chopped nuts and serve it.
Cheese Spread Variation
Skip the shaping into a ball and the pecans and just pack the orange and purple cheeses randomly into a crock or ramekin for serving.
Port wine cheese spread is every bit as legit as a cheeseball, and there aren’t as many steps. Plus, you won’t have to worry about nut allergies.
More Retro Classics
I don’t know about you, but I think the recipes that have been around for decades have been around for a reason: they’re good recipes, and they should be celebrated!
Some of my favorites include my all-time favorite appetizer that falls into the “pouring something over a block of cream cheese” category, Cream Cheese and Red Sauce. Sweet and Tangy poured over creamy and served on crunchy crackers. Y’all.
Want another cheese ball? This pomegranate cheese ball from my friend Laura is rolled in pomegranate arils. So tasty and pretty!
I am also a super fan of what I grew up knowing as “Poppy Seed Party Ham Biscuits,” but these days they’re mostly called Ham and Cheese Sliders. I can eat my weight in those things!
Last up, consider serving my pimento cheese spread with pepper jelly. Two Southern classics that go really well together, yielding a sweet, spicy, cheddar-y bite that’s hard to resist!
And if you love a good hot, cheesy, poppable appetizer, try my mom’s cheese olive puff recipe.
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A Note About Measurements
The vast majority of the recipes on my site are written by weight and not volume, even the liquids unless otherwise specified.
I strongly encourage you to buy and use a kitchen scale to make sure you achieve accurate and consistent results.
This is the scale that I used for years, love, and recommend, both because it is accurate and because the price will not break the bank.
Don't let its small price and small size fool you. The Escali Primo is an accurate and easy-to-use food scale that I have used for years. It's easy to store, easy to use, has a tare function, and easily switches between grams and ounces/pounds for accurate measurements.
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Port Wine Cheese Ball Recipe
For the Port Reduction
- 1 bottle ruby port This will be enough to make 3-4 cheese balls.
For the Port Wine Cheese Ball
- 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese at room temperature (the orange kind is more traditional)
- 3 oz cream cheese
- 2-3 oz half and half Use 2 oz for a firmer cheeseball and 3 ounces for one that is easier to spread straight from the fridge.
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
- Generous 1 1/2 teaspoons port wine reduction divided use
For the Nuts
- 1 cup pecans
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- pinch of salt
- ½ teaspoon hot smoked paprika or to taste
- Your choice of finely chopped fresh herbs for rolling (optional)
For the Port Wine Reduction
- Pour the port into a small saucepan.
- Crank up the heat and boil until reduced to a thick syrup with a volume of about 1/4 cup.** Towards the end, watch it carefully. As the sugar content gets more concentrated, the chances of it burning increase.
- Once the bubbles go from "watery boiling" bubbles to a thicker, syrupy kind of boil, periodically pour it into a heat-proof liquid measure to check for volume. On my stove on high, this took 18 minutes. Start checking at around 15 minutes of boiling.
- Set aside to cool.
For the Port Wine Cheese Ball
- Cut the cheddar and the cream cheese into about 1" chunks and place in the bowl of your food processor. Begin by pulsing to get the cheese chopped up in little bits before just letting it run.
- Mix a slightly generous 1/2 teaspoon of the port wine reduction and the salt into the half and half.
- Slowly pour the dairy mixture in through the feed tube.
- Process until the cheese mixture is very, very smooth, about 2 minutes or so. Taste and add just a tiny bit more salt if you think it needs it.
- Clean off the blade of the food processor and eyeball the cheese mixture to divide it into thirds. Place 2/3 of the mixture in one bowl and leave the remaining third in the food processor.
- To that third, add 1 slightly generous teaspoon of port wine reduction. Process until smooth, scraping the sides of the container and processing some more until the mixture is a uniform purple-y color. You can add a touch more of the port wine concentrate if you'd like it more purple, but I was happy with mine, so I quit there.
- Spread 2 layers of plastic wrap overlapping in an "X" on a clean countertop. Working randomly, plop spoonfuls of the orange and purple cheese mixtures into a pile in the middle of the plastic wrap.
- Carefully pull up the ends of the plastic wrap around the pile of cheese and bring them together over the top, twisting to form the cheese into a ball. Refrigerate, twisted-side-down, until firm, about 4 hours.
- In the meantime, make the pecans.
For the Pecans
- Melt the butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the pecans, the salt and the hot smoked paprika and stir well with a spatula to coat all the nuts in the butter mixture.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are nicely browned, the butter is sort of foamy and the whole thing smells great, about 5 minutes or so.
- Let the nuts cool spread out on several thicknesses of paper towels.
- Once the nuts are cool, chop them fairly finely and set aside.
To Assemble the Port Wine Cheese Ball
- Spread the spiced pecans out in a thick layer on a plate. Unwrap and roll the cheese ball in the nuts until it is evenly coated. You may have to press some on with your hands. Just try to get it evenly coated. Wrap in a clean sheet of plastic wrap until serving time.
- About 45 minutes before serving, roll the ball in the optional chopped herbs and allow to sit at room temperature for best flavor and texture.
- Serve with crackers, pita chips, vegetables or whatever your heart desires.
- Rejoice in the deliciousness of your retro masterpiece.
Did You Make Any Changes?
So good, right? If you only have one port wine cheese ball recipe in your repertoire, please make it this one.
Thanks for spending some time with me today. Take care, and have a lovely day.
What are my qualifications to teach you baking and pastry? As a former working pastry chef and special educator, I marry my passions for both teaching and for baking into explaining techniques, methods, and developing the best possible recipes. For more info, you can read more about me.
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Watch my easy New Year’s Eve appetizer web story here.