On a cold winter’s night in 2017, a friend brought a 567 g walnut- and bacon-covered cheeseball to my Christmas party. It was my first holiday cheeseball experience and I instantly became enamoured with the novelty of having access to a gigantic sphere of nearly endless dip. But when the next day dawned, I was faced with an unforeseen challenge: What do I do with the cheeseball leftovers? The ball was certainly no longer shaped like one, and nearly half of it was gone, but that still left me with over a half pound of cheese. I looked forward to eating more of it with crackers, but I knew I’d eventually get sick of that presentation, and throwing it in the trash was simply not an option.
Suddenly, my brain went into “re-work” mode. Re-work is a food industry concept of taking a perfectly good but no longer needed finished product and changing it into something new. It’s the same idea behind using day-old brioche slices for your Sunday French toast. Brioche is already a finished product you can enjoy as is, but day-old brioche can be too dry for eating plain. It is, however, perfect for soaking up cinnamon-laced custard and frying in butter.
I looked at my cheeseball, all broken open, but still showing off its bacon bits, scallions, shredded cheddar cheese, cream cheese, walnuts, and seasonings. It occurred to me that this could make an amazing sauce for some pasta. I could re-work this cheeseball into a glorious mac and cheese, elevated to new heights with bacon and walnuts!
The resulting dish was a stunner: gooey cheese sauce, bubbling with herbs and spices, with the occasional crunch from a walnut — and best of all, it was the simplest mac and cheese I have ever created. No roux, and no dry, separated, oily cheese clumps. The soft cheese, whether cream cheese, goat cheese, or another spreadable cheese, melts down to create a thick sauce that binds and supports the hard cheeses, like the cheddar or parmesan present in most cheeseballs. I devoured a heaping bowlful of this fancy mac and cheese and still had enough cheeseball to make more the next day (this time with some frozen peas tossed in).
The following recipe makes one serving, so you can make this dish even if you only have a little bit of leftover cheeseball. If you have a lot leftover, this is easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled. After this, you might want to double your next cheeseball just to ensure you do have leftovers.
Leftover Holiday Cheeseball Mac & Cheese (Yield: 1 serving)
- ¾ cup of dry pasta
- ⅓ cup of cheeseball
- ¼ cup of pasta water
In a small pot, boil pasta in salted water as directed by the box instructions. Once the pasta has reached the desired texture, drain all but ¼ cup of the pasta water. (If you forget this step or drain it all by accident, you can add ¼ cup of fresh water or milk back to the pot. Pasta water is helpful because the starch in it will add a little thickness to your sauce and help it cling to the pasta, but it’s not a deal breaker if you have to use plain water.)
Return the pot to the burner on medium heat. Break up the cheeseball and toss it into the pot. Stir the mixture slowly but consistently. The cheeseball will begin to melt and mix into the pasta water, creating a sauce. As the pasta water evaporates the mixture will thicken into a rich, velvety sauce, studded with nuts and other tasty bits. Enjoy with your biggest fork.