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.
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Wine and Cheese: A Match Made in Heaven
Not only is wine a lovely pairing with cheese, but cheese and wine go well as ingredients in dishes.
Case in point: cheese fondue! That bit of acidity from wine cuts through the fattiness of the cheese and allows you to Eat Mor Cheez!
Another winner in my book? That retro-classic appetizer and cocktail party staple, the port wine cheese ball.
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 and then it’s shaped into a ball or log, or sometimes just packed into crocks.
What makes mine a bit different is that, rather than adding straight port or a gelatin port mixture (I saw that sort of recipe on the Internet. I found it upsetting), I add an intense port reduction.
Reducing the port on the stove renders it both almost non-alcoholic and super flavorful even when adding just a little bit to the cheese.
The whole point of port wine cheese is that it is hard to stop eating, so you will definitely want to make some!
How to Make a Cheese Ball
The basic formula is really pretty easy and universal:
- Delicious semi-soft-to-semi-hard cheese blended with
- cream cheese or other soft cheese such as goat cheese
- a touch of cream or half and half to get the right consistency
What you end up with after blending is sort of a cookie dough consistency that you can then:
- pack into crocks or lidded jars
- roll into logs or
- roll into a ball and then cover in whatever you’d like (nuts, herbs, etc.)
My choice is toasted nuts of some sort, but my friend Laura has a gorgeous recipe for a pomegranate cheese ball rolled in brilliant ruby red pomegranate arils. So pretty!
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.
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 gently simmer 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.
And that is all there is to it.
Port Wine Cheese Ball: Tips for Making Ahead
- Make the port reduction up to several days in advance and keep it in the fridge.
- You can also make and assemble the cheese ball a few days ahead of when you need it. Yes, you can even roll it in the chopped nuts ahead of time.
- All you’ll need to do before serving is roll it in some chopped herbs (optional, but lovely as a garnish) and then let it sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes for the best texture.
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.
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!
If you are a fan of port wine cheese like me, and you think this recipe sounds Excellent, please consider rating and/or commenting. I love hearing from readers!
And if you make one, and I hope you do, share a photo of with me on Instagram by tagging @onlinepastrychef and using hashtag #pcorecipe or in the Pastry Chef Online Facebook Group. Can’t wait to see your version!
For the Port Reduction
- 2 cups ruby port
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 plus 1 Tablespoon at room temperature, , divided use
- 3 oz half and half, (straight from the fridge is fine)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, , or to taste
- Generous 1 1/2 teaspoons port wine reduction, , divided use
For the Nuts
- 1 1/2 cups pecans
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 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.
- Set aside to cool.
For the Port Wine Cheese Ball
- Cut the cheddar and 3 oz of 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 and the remaining 1 Tablespoon of cream cheese. 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.
- In a bowl large enough to hold all the cheese mixture (it makes about 2 cups or so of spread), layer the orange cheese and the purple cheese together in about 1/2" layers: orange-purple-orange-purple-orange.
- Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the cheese and refrigerate until firm, at least 4 hours.
- In the meantime, make fix 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 a piece of plastic wrap out on a work surface.
- Run a spatula around the inside of your "cheese mold" and then cut it roughly into quarters. Put the four quarters out on the plastic wrap with the orange and purple stripes running horizontally on two of the quarters and vertically on the other two. This is an optional step, but I do think it makes it look pretty cool and authentic when you cut into it. Your choice.
- No matter how you scoop the cheese onto the plastic wrap, pull the wrap up over the cheese and then smoosh the cheese into a ball shape (or you could make 2 logs or do whatever you want)
- Spread the spiced pecans out in a thick layer on a plate 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.
**You will not need all the port reduction for this recipe, but if you try to reduce a smaller amount of port, you'll end up burning it. Add a touch of water to the remaining reduction so it's still syrupy but not so thick. Then you can brush it on berries for a berry pie or just toss berries in it as a topping for yogurt or something. Enjoy!
Nutrition Information is based on 16 servings of about 1 oz each.
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Nutrition InformationYield 16 Serving Size 1 Tablespoon
Amount Per Serving Calories 179Total Fat 16gSaturated Fat 6gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 9gCholesterol 25mgSodium 338mgCarbohydrates 4gFiber 1gSugar 1gProtein 5g
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.