A homemade cheese ball is welcome on any holiday menu. It can serve as the center of a Christmas-themed cheese board or stand out in a celebratory spread of New Year’s Eve nibbles.
Here’s how to make the perfect cheese ball for your holiday gathering. Read on for cheese ball ingredient tips, techniques, and recipes!
What Is a Cheese Ball?
When you think of a cheese ball, your mind probably conjures a creamy orange orb of cheese coated in crunchy chopped nuts. In fact, the classic American cheese ball has its roots in a surprising place.
Around the turn of the 20th century, it was fashionable to serve small balls of soft cheese coated in chopped nuts alongside a lunch salad. By the 1940s, cheese balls rolled in nuts, dried fruit, or chopped meat had become a trendy appetizer at parties, and around this time, cheese balls were made large enough to feed a crowd rather than just one person.
Midcentury cheese balls were often made with a combination of processed cheese and cream cheese, though it was also popular to incorporate blue cheese like Roquefort for a stronger punch of flavor.
The mixture might be seasoned with ingredients like mustard, Worcestershire sauce, onion, or horseradish. Cheese balls were shaped and rolled in chopped pecans, which often included colorful ingredients like parsley or paprika.
By the 1970s, cheese balls had achieved iconic status as a uniquely American party food that was at once special yet comforting. Today, they give a party spread or festive cheese board a nostalgic, retro vibe that’s perfect for the holidays.
How to Make a Cheese Ball
These days, we have so many cheeses and ingredients to choose from that a cheese ball can be made with dozens if not hundreds of cheese combinations. However, a good cheese ball recipe will follow a basic formula.
To make a cheese ball, combine a grated or shredded hard cheese with a soft, spreadable cheese. You can choose to spike the mixture with optional seasonings and additions or leave it plain.
Form the mixture into a ball, then gently roll it in a coating of crunchy chopped nuts, sweet dried fruit, or savory chopped meat or charcuterie. Plate, garnish, and serve with crackers or bread for spreading.
Which Cheese Is Used for a Cheese Ball?
First, choose a flavorful aged cheese like cheddar, Gruyère, Gouda, parmesan, or blue cheese to grate, shred, or crumble. You can also use aged American artisan cheeses like the ones in our online store.
Next, you’ll need a soft, mild fresh cheese to provide the creamy texture we love. Cream cheese is a classic option here, but you could also go with chèvre, fromage blanc, quark, or any other thick, spreadable fresh cheese.
You’ll want about 8 ounces (½ pound of each cheese). Let both the hard and soft cheeses come up to room temperature before you begin the recipe so you can mix them easily. Once grated, shredded, or crumbled, your firm cheese should total about two cups by volume.
Other Ingredients to Use in a Cheese Ball
The beauty of a cheese ball is that you can keep the recipe simple and classic or get creative with different flavor profiles, toppings, and additions.
Depending on the cheeses you’re using and the flavors you’re craving, consider blending the following additions into your cheese mixture:
- Seasonings like lemon juice, white wine, Worcester sauce, or hot sauce
- Fresh herbs like thyme, parsley, or rosemary
- Onions, scallions, shallots, or garlic
- Spices like sweet or smoked paprika, cayenne, mustard powder, black pepper, or nutmeg
- Cured meats like ham or pepperoni
- Pickles, capers, or olives
- Dried fruit
- Fruit preserves like jam
Be sure to finely chop or mince any optional additions so they’ll integrate smoothly into the cheese mixture. Once you’ve mixed up the ingredients, the texture should be thick, creamy, and spreadable.
Now it’s time to shape your cheese ball. You can go with the classic sphere, roll it into a log, or even try fun shapes like pinecones, Christmas trees, or snowmen.
What Are the Best Toppings for a Cheese Ball?
Finally, it’s time for toppings. While nuts are the standard, you have a lot of leeway here, too. You can echo mix-ins like chopped meats or dried fruit on the outside of the ball or go with something different to add contrasting flavor and texture:
- Fresh herbs
- Cooked or cured meats
- Seeds or everything bagel spice
- Dried fruit
- Pomegranate arils
You’ll want to finely chop toppings like nuts, dried fruit, and herbs (although some whole nuts, like almonds or pecans, can be intentionally placed one by one to create an attractive, crunchy coating).
What to Serve With a Cheese Ball
Serve your beautiful cheese ball with plenty of goodies for dipping, scooping, and spreading. Good ideas for cheese ball accompaniments include:
- Artisan bread or baguette slices
- Crackers or crunchy flatbreads
- Veggies like celery, carrot, and cucumber cut into sticks or slices
How to Serve a Cheese Ball
Plate your cheese ball on a plate, platter, or cheese board with accompaniments on the same platter or in nearby bowls. You may also want to include palate cleansers like fresh fruit or accompaniments like honey or jam to go with your cheese ball.
How Long Will a Cheese Ball Last in the Fridge?
Entertaining can be a lot of work, so it’s a good idea to take care of as many items in advance as possible. Luckily, you can take care of most of your cheese ball recipe long before the day of your holiday gathering.
You can combine your cheeses and optional add-ins, shape your cheese ball, and store it in the fridge up to 1 week in advance of serving. Wait until the day of your party to add toppings, as they’ll get soggy in the fridge.
After shaping the ball, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap it in another layer of foil. This will keep it tasting fresh and also help hold its shape.
On the day you’d like to serve your cheese ball, take it out of the fridge 30 minutes to 1 hour before serving to let it warm up a bit. Shortly before you’re ready to serve, coat the ball in your chosen toppings. Now it’s ready to serve!
Can a Cheese Ball Be Frozen?
We don’t typically recommend freezing cheese, but cheese balls actually freeze pretty well. If you want to get your holiday prep done even further in advance, you can pre-make your cheese ball and then freeze it until the day before you plan to serve it.
After you’ve mixed the cheeses and any optional add-ins, shape your cheese ball and double-wrap it with plastic wrap and foil as described above. Place wrapped cheese balls in an airtight container or zip-top freezer bag and freeze for up to 1 month.
To thaw your cheese ball, take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge the night before you plan to serve it. Let the cheese ball come to room temperature, then roll it in toppings right before serving.
Do you have a favorite holiday cheese ball recipe? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!