Arancini di Riso: Cheese Rice Balls

I was in NYC’s Little Italy and ran across a cheese delicacy that has been eluding me for years —Arancini Cheese Rice Balls.

Arancini di Riso is a traditional Sicilian snack or appetizer of deep fried risotto balls with various ingredients inside. I have always seen them with prosciutto and cheese, but never with cheese only.

I was thrilled, and these cheese balls didn’t disappoint. Arancini translates as “little oranges” in Italian. Riso is “rice.” I usually see them the size of a Clementine, but this one was more like a grapefruit!  It cost $5 and was well worth it.


Just look at that mozzarella stretch!

Filled with cheese, then breaded fried, it ate like a dream. The coating was savory and a little crunchy. The risotto inside was soft and pillowy, and each bite revealed a smattering of cheese. Part of this one went into strings when pulled. It screamed mozzarella!

Yet there were also pockets of something whispery and white. I am guessing ricotta. It seemed to be flavored with a bit of garlic (Of course! It’s Italian!), and somewhere in this golden orb, there had to be some Parmigiano Reggiano.

Christina  Conte of  offers the best info on arancini. On her trip to visit family in Sicily, she learned the traditional method of making them. In her recipe description, she even includes detailed instructions with step-by-step photos.  Click HERE for her arancini post.  Scroll down to the end for the arancini.

From the many recipes I have seen online, I found cheeses arancini to be extremely versatile; they can hide a cube of Mozzarella inside, or a variety of cheeses in shreds (Fontina, Piave, Asiago, Oka, Caciocavallo, Scamorza) and/or creamier cheeses (Ricotta, Gorgonzola Dolce,  Chèvre  goat cheese, Mascarpone).


Baby Scamorza from Hoboken. It is part of the pasta filata family and stretches like mozzarella.

Other additions include green peas, marinara, mushrooms, pistachios, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes….the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Arancini can be served plain, but a traditional accompaniment is marinara.

The only drawback is that I forgot where I bought this big cheese ball! Somewhere in the Italian cheese paradise of Little Italy…

Elizabeth Bland
The Cheese Mistress


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Shankleesh “Cheese Balls” – Marinated Labneh from Lebanon

Shankleeshplate92Cheese balls come in many styles and flavors; likely every cheesemaking part of the world has some version of a cheesy orb, be it rolled in nuts, herbs, spices, peppers, and dried fruits, or marinated in oil. The Middle East’s traditional cheese ball is Shankleesh, or “pickled Labneh,” a dairy delicacy native to Lebanon.

I happened upon Shankleesh by Baroody  at Wekalet El Balah Egyptian American Grocery & Deli in Bayonne, N.J., where there is a large Egyptian community. EgyptianMarketThe store is named for a historical outdoor market in Cairo, Egypt, yet sells products from all over the Middle East. This local Wekalet El Balah sports a thriving cheese section full of exotic Middle Eastern cheeses—cheeses I had never heard of—and I have eaten a lot of cheese in my life!

Shankleesh is a different type of marinated cheese ball. This cow’s milk version is much firmer than the spreadable goat cheeses in oil that I usually find from other countries. Shankleeshjar79

Ingredients include “dry milk,” which I deducted was actually strained yogurt, or “Labneh,” and red hot pepper (possibly Aleppo), sweet spice (tastes like za’atar), and dry thyme. Some Shankleesh is marinatd in olive oil, but Baroody’s is in soybean. Oddly enough, since the cheeses are firm, they don’t become overly oily from the marinade; only the outside carries the oil. The flavors of the herbs and peppers, however, penetrate the little cheese balls.

Shankleesh is a crumbly cheese similar in texture to feta, and can be used much in the same way. Each 1-ounce cheese ball is about 60 calories with 6 grams of fat, making it a light accompaniment for vegetables. shankleesh10The whole cheese balls are an attractive addition to a meze appetizer selection, and in recipes, they are usually crumbled, especially over diced tomatoes and onions. Its tanginess is enhanced with a squeeze of lemon. Other additions include cucumber, parsley, mint, avocado, green peppers, and jalapeno peppers, black pepper, and olive oil.  It’s also tasty over a green salad.

An adventuresome cheese lover can make Shankleesh at home, plain or with herbs, by straining Greek yogurt or Labneh in a sieve for three days or so, and then rolling the dryer substance into balls to marinate. The blog post “Marinated Yoghurt Cheese Balls (Labneh)” by Home Cooking in Montana, gives detailed instructions on how to make Shankleesh, including step-by-step pictures.

Bil-hanā’ wa ash-shifā’! بالهناء والشفاء / بالهنا والشفا
“May you have your meal with gladness and health!”
(Bon Appétit!)

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress

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Arla Cream Cheese Spreads: Schmear Done the Danish Way

Arla06I was excited to see Arla cheese come on the market in my area. Cream cheese, though mild and fairly standard, is nevertheless a favorite of mine. Its smooth, creamy texture and taste of fine cream make it both refreshing and versatile. I once attended a seminar on the history of cream cheese. During its evolution in the U.S., this ancestor of French Neufchâtel gradually acquired gums and stabilizers as ingredients. I longed to taste the more delicate cream cheeses of a bygone era, but found none on the market. Until Arla.

Arla is a dairy-owned company in Denmark devoted to sustainable farming.

Arla23Arla’s line of Danish cream cheeses—which includes Original, Light, Peppercorn, Herbs & Spices, and Blueberry—are free of added hormones, stabilizers, thickeners, artificial flavors and preservatives. Not only are they lighter on the palate, they are also lighter in calories and fat; two tablespoons range from 60 to 80 calories with only five to seven grams of fat, depending on the flavor. One especially intriguing ingredient is buttermilk to the cream, which possibly accounts for the lower fat and added tanginess in the Light, Blueberry, Peppercorn, Herbs & Spices flavors. The Original contains both cream and skim milk.

Arla Cream Cheese Spreads are silky with a pleasant texture that is not at all sticky or gummy. Their moisture content seems to be higher than other brands’, allowing them to glide onto bagels and crackers with ease.

Arla34Peppercorn, which is spiced up with black pepper and pink peppercorns, is a personal favorite. Gerry, who was presenting samples and “$1 off” coupons, said the Herbs & Spices was especially popular for its savory blend of onion, garlic, paprika, and dill. The lightly sweet Blueberry needs no explanation.

The only drawback to these cheeses is that they are not kosher as other brands are. While they contain no offending ingredients, they simply don’t have certification. (Kosher cream cheese is a staple at many Jewish events.)

Thanks, Gerry, for the coupons and excellent cheese samples! Click HERE to print a $1 coupon online (at bottom of page).

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress

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St. Patrick’s Day Cheese and Biscuits

Lively cheese brings out the Irish in everybody! Many Americans are of Irish descent, but no matter your background, Ireland’s fine cheeses invite you to join in on the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. From Ireland’s rich green fields come luscious golden cheeses, many of which are in the beloved cheddar style.biscuit552

This year, Irish cheeses started popping up just as I was returning from a trip home to Alabama—with a batch of my sister’s homemade biscuits. “Make sure and toast them with cheese,” she told me, “just like Grandma used to do.” Sure enough I melted my Irish Kerrygold cheeses (Dubliner and Skellig), and butter, onto my grandma’s reincarnated biscuits.

Fluffy, yet crumbly, these biscuits take you back to the “scone” age. Biscuits, like good scones and even Irish soda bread, are based on buttermilk and soda. They go great with anything from fruit preserves to simple butters, floral honeys, and lush cheeses.

It is hard to wait for fresh biscuits to cook (which is why I enjoy the raw dough), but equally difficult to watch—and watch—and watch the orange light in the toaster oven as it warms and re-crusts the biscuits from early morning festivities. It is worth it, the soft, crispy toaster version. Melted cheese and butter are an extra bonus. Plus chives.biscuit14

I open-face toasted some biscuits first with my Irish cheddar, but also made sandwich biscuits.

Biscuits may not hold up in your lunch bag. They crumble. And you may not make it to the train stop. I bit through this biscuit during its photo shoot.biscuit713

For more on biscuits and cheese, see my cheese biscuit blog post from 2011 where I tried to recreate my grandma’s and searched for a substitute for government cheese! (Spoiler alert: there is no substitute.)

Elizabeth Bland
The Cheese Mistress


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A Bite of Brie by Ile de France

BriePetit292Deep in the heart of Pennsylvania at a Sheetz gas station and grab n’ go shop, I found a basket of tiny gourmet snack cheeses. One was a single serve cup of Il de France Brie.

Ile de France is a well-known French producer whose pop-up I had visited at the Best of France festival in Manhattan. I had thoroughly enjoyed the Brie I got there, and was thrilled to see it available in .9 oz., 70 calorie miniatures. (I found out later the Brie Bites come in a bag at grocery stores, too.)

BriePetit41When I looked at the sell-by date on the side on my Brie Bite, my chest froze; the date February 24th is the anniversary of my mother’s death. Although it’s a sad day, it’s also one I spend remembering her, especially with foods she loved like pralines, Milky Way bars, and buttery cheeses.

Brie is one such cheese. Sumptuous and smooth, it satisfies the indulgent nature of the human experience.

During the last couple of decades of her life, my mother denied herself some of the world’s most luxurious, full-fat foods. It was not her weight that concerned her—she was naturally petite and skinny—but rather, her hereditary high cholesterol. The doctor suggested she adopt a low fat diet with extreme limitations on her dairy. From then on, she lamented the fat-driven world; she altered recipes; she avoided red meat and eggs; and she picked nervously at my delicious cheeses.

BriePetithand3But it was not cholesterol that shifted her fate. It was an accident. When I realized how haphazard life was, I vowed to “seize the day” and never deny myself the pleasure of dairy indulgence. As it turns out, doctors are not always right, and full fat, quality dairy is not the culprit, when part of a balanced diet.

So Carpe Cheese-um!


Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress

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Sea Change – a Shift to the Otherworldly

SeaChangelabel150The cryptic Shakespeare reference on the back of Sea Change cheese got me at “rich and strange.”(The Tempest: Act 1, Scene 2) True to the slogan “Dedicated to the Science and Art of Milk Metamorphosis,” The Mystic Cheese Company of Lebanon, Conn., brings a cheese that reflects the “sea change” of fine dairy.


Freshly opened Sea Change

Before I even tasted the 4-ounce disk of cow’s milk, I held it in my hand, assaying its weight. For such a small cheese, it felt surprisingly heavy; and with a slight squeeze, it came to life. This was a delicate cheese, but with a “rich and strange” personality.

Once I unwrapped it, I saw its similarities to Italian Robiola cheese—young fresh, sometimes lightly rinded beauties from Piedmont in northwestern Italy. Sea Change is a fat little milk-logged cheese with a yeasty, eggy aroma. Young and ready to play, it comes to the perfect texture in no time. This cheese not only has a traditional lactic tang, but it also lactates on its own.


Super milky Sea Change after about 15 minutes

It starts oozing milk before it comes anywhere near room temperature. The center remains firm—not curdy—but fluffy and fudgy, and towards the thin rind, there is a gap where liquid cheese can move about.

A small cheese that disappears as quickly as sea foam, Sea Change should be served to a few select friends, either on its own with bread or dried fruits, or on an intimate cheese plate.

Recommended wine: lively sparklers such as Italy’s Prosecco or Asti Spumante.

I bought Sea Change at Le District in Manhattan’s Battery Park.

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress

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It’s National Cheese Lover’s Day!

CheeseDay1I don’t just love cheese; I adore it. So much so that every day, for me, is “cheese lover’s day.” Cheese is one of the most fascinating foods around, from its myriad incarnations and international versatility to its funky history. I have compiled a list of questions and answers on my true love and appreciation for cheese. Consider this a Valentine to Cheese—How do I love cheese? Let me count the ways.

Murrays24Why cheese?
Why not cheese? I truly don’t understand this question. It’s like asking a fine pastry chef, “Why éclairs?” Cheese is delicious. It’s beautiful. It’s protein- and calcium-packed. It comes in many shapes, colors, milks, flavors, and styles. It is versatile enough for breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and snacks. It has a rich history and regional terroir. With its many personalities, cheese is funny and quirky by nature. It is alive. It speaks if you listen closely. Oh, and it can melt! Cheese is the ultimate toy and storyteller.

How did you get into cheese?
I loved cheese from an early age, and dairy products from birth. As a baby, I drank a remarkable one quart of milk a day. I loved milk, and when I got old enough to appreciate cheese, I did. My earliest cheese memory is eating pimento cheese sandwiches in pre-school. By the time I was eighcheesebookst, I was eating chunks of Longhorn Colby like a lollipop. I truly came into cheese when my high school French teacher introduced the class to Brie and chèvre at a class party. Once I traveled to Europe in high school, I discovered even more cheese in France and Italy, where I was studying language. My passion for cheese only grew as my knowledge deepened.

What’s your favorite cheese?
My favorite cheese is usually the one I have eaten most recently! The cheese type I eat the most often is Cheddar. However, my go-to favorite cheese, my standard answer is my first love, Crottin de Chavignol, a goat nugget from France.

How do you eat so much cheese and stay thin?
Cheese is part of my healthy diet—one which keeps my weight in check. I eat cheese with great frequency on a daily basis, but not in great quantities.

BlueCheeseSalad66I have been overweight and I even had high cholesterol in my early 20’s, but it was not the cheese’s fault; I was eating too much high carb/low fiber food, namely pastries. When I switched back to cheese as my #1 filler-up source, and replaced the sweets with fruits, I lost the weight and the cholesterol issues. I also work out a lot as cheese provides me with sustaining, long-lasting energy vs. the crash and burn of sugar.

Do you make your own cheese?
Yes and no. I have made fresh (unaged) cheeses at home before, including ricotta, mascarpone, and cream cheese. My main source of cheese, however, is store-bought. Going through the cheesemaking deepened my understanding of my favorite food.

Is there any cheese you don’t like? Do you eat Velveeta?
Schtarkbowl60Yes, there are three cheeses I don’t like, but they are not the usual suspects. (Write me privately and I will name them. They are not inherently bad cheeses—just not my cup of “cheese.”) One, I will name, however. It is a horrible process cheese from the 99 Cent Store in L.A. This was the worst cheese in the world. It wasn’t even cheese. It was just plastic and rubber. It made American slices look like an aged clothbound cheddar! The 99 cent cheese was so bad, I threw it away and its name has become a repressed memory. What was I thinking?

On the other hand, I believe that (almost) every cheese has its purpose and should be appreciated per its unique reason to live. Velveeta, for example, is far from artisanal, but no one can deny that it is a great melter and part of culinary Americana. Who hasn’t enjoyed the simple pleasure of dumping a can of Rotel into a bowl of Velveeta cubes, microwaving it, and kicking back in front of the TV with some tortilla chips?

So Cheese On! Make every day Cheese Day!

Elizabeth Bland, The Cheese Mistress


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