In celebration of cheese log

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

Leslie Shalabi PHOTO CREDIT: Nicki Kohl

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

Leslie Shalabi PHOTO CREDIT: Nicki Kohl

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

Leslie Shalabi PHOTO CREDIT: Nicki Kohl

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

Leslie Shalabi PHOTO CREDIT: Nicki Kohl

PHOTO CREDIT: Metro Creative

For many of us, this holiday season is going to look a whole lot different than it has in years past. And for many others, it is going to be pretty much like any other holiday season.

Whatever your plans, this article definitely is for you because it is about cheese log. And who can argue with a good cheese log?

Before all you fancy foodies scoff in disgust, please bear with me because maybe for you, it isn’t a cheese log at all.

Let me explain.

One of the most difficult things through this pandemic has been not being able to do the things we’ve always done. Sure, we’ve “pivoted.” We’ve adjusted to our “new normal.” But let’s face it — in most cases, it just isn’t the same. It doesn’t give us the same feeling because it isn’t what we’ve always done.

Here is where the cheese log comes in. This particular cheese log is a low-brow concoction of cream cheese, shredded cheddar and a few other various things, mixed together, then rolled into a log shape about the diameter of a Ritz cracker (because that is what our particular cheese log always is served on) and covered with chili powder.

I love it. Other members of my family enjoy it, but I really, really love it.

My mom hated making it because it was “kind of messy”(code for, “I don’t feel like adding that to my to-do list this holiday season, dear child”). So, from a really young age, this became my job and has remained my job. It always has been a tradition in our family largely because I forced it on everyone. Even in my early 20s, living in a tiny apartment in Chicago and navigating the stressful first few years of my career, I made the cheese log and transported it back to Wisconsin in a Saran wrap box. (This also became part of the tradition).

There is nothing particularly Christmas-y about this cheese log. But the idea of making and enjoying it in July is just downright … wrong.

Here is the best part: I do not have to compromise on the cheese log this year. I can make the cheese log just like I’ve always done for years and years.

Cheese log will be part of our Christmas Eve this year because cheese log is a great social distancer, it wears a mask and washes its hands all the time. (It is, however, a super spreader but only on Ritz crackers.)

Food traditions, especially holiday food traditions, are great that way, aren’t they? They can connect us to our loved ones and our sense of “rightness” with our worlds, through time, distance, pandemics and even death.

This year has been a doozie for most of us, but I have had the extra sadness of losing both of my parents — my dad in January and my mom, very unexpectedly, in July.

So, this year, this year cheese log will be even more important. Cheese log will help it seem like Christmas, even if everything else about Christmas is going to be different.

Cheese Log

8 ounces cream cheese, softened8 ounces shredded cheddar3-5 dashes of Worcestershire sauce¼ teaspoon pepper1 teaspoon garlic powder3 tablespoons chili powder, for rollingWax paper

Add cream cheese to the bowl of a mixer and add Worcestershire, pepper and garlic powder. Mix on low speed until just incorporated. Add shredded cheese, and mix until incorporated. Remove from bowl, and place on sheet wax paper. Wet hands and roll into a log shape, about 1½ inches in diameter. Sprinkle chili powder on wax paper, and roll cheese log until completely covered with chili powder. Wrap in clean sheet of wax paper, and store in refrigerator. Best made a day ahead to let flavors meld.

Leslie Shalabi is the co-founder of Convivium Urban Farmstead, a Dubuque-based nonprofit organization based on the idea of creating community around food. A life-long lover of food and entertaining, she is dedicated to helping people find ways to connect through the universal languages of food and hospitality.

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