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Sunday, Sep 24, 2017
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You can repurpose unused cheese balls

Q: We had several cheese balls that we prepared for the holidays that were not eaten. We'd like to freeze them for another event coming up in a couple of weeks. Do you think they'll be OK? They have cream cheese, cream and shredded cheddar cheese, as well as seasonings and chopped olives. A: The flavor probably will not suffer after such a short time in the freezer, but the texture of the cheese mixture almost certainly will not be as nice. Cream cheese and cream usually separate and get watery when frozen. Cheddar cheese usually gets crumbly and dry when frozen. So the cheese ball may not stick together as a ball. You might have a plate of lumpy grains in an oily, watery puddle when thawed. If you just can't use them soon, might you be able to use them for other dishes? How about melting some of the cheese into a white sauce to use over pasta? Stir some into hot vegetables as a dressing? Or use as a spread on bread for sandwiches at lunch? You might even be able to melt it into a soup base to make a cheesy bisque or chowder with added seafood or vegetables depending on the seasoning used. If you do decide to freeze them, they will be safe. So you might be able to blend them into some cream cheese when they're thawed to make an acceptable cheese spread or dip. But I would not count on having them for cheese balls at a party after they've been frozen.
Q: Some friends of mine made homemade mincemeat recently. They put meat in some and made part of the batch without meat. After they pressure canned it, the jars without mincemeat seemed to have lost a lot of the juice. Why would the meat make that kind of difference? A: I don't think the jars really lost the juice, you just can't see it anymore. You also mentioned that along with the meat, more sugar was added. The difference probably lies more in the sugar than in the meat. When fruit is canned, unless there's enough sugar on the outside to balance what's inside, the water that's outside will move into the fruit to try to dilute the sugar there. You can't see it because it's inside the fruit. Also, after the meat was added, you cooked the mixture longer. That extra cooking time softens the fruit and gets more air out of the mixture. So the mincemeat with meat had less air in it when it went into the jars. The canning drives the air out, so it looks like the juice went down only because there is now more space in the jars. But the juice is still there, inside and around the fruit. The air space looks bigger because the pieces of fruit have collapsed. As long as the mixture was processed the right way, long enough and hot enough to kill any botulism spores and seal the jars, the mincemeat will be safe. Since both batches were pressure processed, the jars without meat are surely safe. Fruit is acidic enough that you don't need to worry. The jars with meat must be pressure processed long enough to sterilize the meat. If the recipe was a tested recipe and the processing time was long enough, you'll still be able to enjoy the pies you make with it. The jars just might not be as pretty as you would like.

Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at mkeith@ufl.edu.
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