This easy cheese ball recipe with walnuts, dates, and parsley will become your go-to holiday appetizer. Make-ahead friendly and kid-approved, this fun and festive centerpiece is the ultimate crowd-pleaser. This recipe post is sponsored by California Walnuts. I was compensated for my time, however all opinions are my own.
Classic Cheese Ball Recipe with Walnuts:
One holiday appetizer I go back to season after season is a classic cheese ball. (In case you’re not familiar, basically a sphere made of a mix of cheeses blanketed in a crunchy coating.) It’s fun, festive, supremely simple, and infinitely riffable.
The cheese ball may seem retro, however there’s a reason it’s secured a spot in the hors d’oeuvre hall of fame. One major perk is that a cheese ball be made ahead, so it checks any last-minute to-dos off the list. Plus, you can serve it with any assortment of crackers, fruit, bread, or veggies.
Growing up, cheese balls were a recurrent component of our Christmas appetizer assembly. Luckily, my mom would always switch up the flavorings to keep things exciting. Some years it was a mix of cheddar, bacon, and pecans (my brother’s favorite). Other years it was feta, herbs, and pine nuts (my personal favorite). Though regardless of the riffs, the cheese ball has always been an overall family favorite.
This year, however, I’m taking the tradition into my own hands and creating a new (and improved) rendition.
What is a Cheese Ball Made Of?
Classic cheese balls are a mix of cream cheese and a semi-soft (or semi-firm) cheese whipped until smooth with a few other flavor agents. The mixture gets shaped into a ball, rolled in a crunchy coating, and is enjoyed with crackers and/or fruit. In terms of cheese, cream cheese is always the foundation, which works incredibly well. However to take the flavor up a notch, it’s best to pair it with a stronger cheese. For example, goat cheese, creamy feta, Gruyere, or cheddar. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, blue cheese or gorgonzola. (Just make the cheeses are close to room temperature, which will help them whip into a smoother, creamier ball.) I personally love the tang of goat cheese, which is why I chose it for this recipe. Plus, it pairs exceptionally well with the richness of walnuts and honeyed sweetness of dates.
Which leads me to my next tip: Aim to create some textural contrast with the fillings and coating. Adding both chewy and crunchy elements helps counter the creaminess of the interior, adding more dimension to the ball. And for overall brightness, herbs and lemon zest are a dynamite duo.
How to Toast Walnuts:
I always say that toasting nuts allows them to reach pure enlightenment. It amplifies their rich, nutty flavor, and makes them incredibly fragrant. Plus, studies show that toasting walnuts does NOT alter their nutrient profile. (However, if you soak walnuts or remove their brawny skin, you could miss out on key nutrients, FYI.)
You can toast walnuts one of two ways: In a skillet or in the oven. I prefer the oven method because the indirect heat will toast the nuts more evenly. Here’s how to do it:
- Spread the walnuts out in an even layer on a sheet pan and toss them with a pinch of salt.
- Pop them in a 350° oven for 7 to 8 minutes, or until they start smelling toasty and fragrant.
- Give the pan a shake halfway through to shift the position and encourage more even browning.
- Transfer the nuts to a bowl and allow them to completely cool.
Once they reach room temperature, give them a chop and they’re ready to coat the cheese ball!
Health Benefits of Walnuts:
Walnuts are tiny, yet mighty, nutrition powerhouses. Among their expansive list of health benefits, here are a few that stand out:
- Each ounce of walnuts has 2.5 grams of alpha linolenic acid or ALA (plant-based omega-3 fatty acid), which is the highest amount out of the nine tree nuts.
- Walnuts offer 4g of protein, 2g of fiber per serving and are a good source of magnesium (45mg per serving).
- Walnuts have been researched for their potential role in a variety of health outcomes, including cognitive function, heart health, cancer, diabetes, weight, gut health and reproductive health. You can read more about the findings here.
To expand on that last little factoid, there was a study that came out of David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles, CA. The study evaluated adults with depression who were asked about their dietary intake over the course of one to two days, as well as depression symptoms over two weeks. The study found that that depression scores were 26% lower for walnut consumers and 8% lower for consumers of other nuts, compared to those who did not consume nuts at all. Overall, walnut consumers had a greater interest in activities, higher energy levels, less hopelessness (for women), better concentration, and greater optimism.
While outcomes from the project provide a basis for future research on foods that may have an impact on mental health, it is important to consider the limitations. Here’s the small print: Findings cannot prove causality due to the cross-sectional, observational nature of the study. Dietary data is representative of one to two days of intake which may not be representative of usual consumption patterns. Depression may also change typical appetite and eating behaviors.
How Long Do Cheese Balls Last?
Wrapped in plastic, a cheese ball will last for up to a week, making it a great snack to have on hand during the holidays. Once you serve it, however, it may only last about 20 minutes because guests will go “nuts” over it.
Easy Cheese Ball with Walnuts
- 1 8-oz. block organic cream cheese, softened
- 1 4-oz. log goat cheese, softened
- 3 pitted Medjool dates finely chopped
- 1 tsp. lemon zest
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
- Optional: pomegranate arils
- For serving: assorted crackers pear and/or apple slices
- Combine first 6 ingredients (cream cheese through pepper) in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed 2 minutes or until smooth and creamy, scraping sides of bowl as necessary. Spoon mixture onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Form into a ball using a rubber spatula. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap; chill 3 to 4 hours (or overnight), until firm.
- Combine walnuts and parsley in a shallow dish. Unwrap cheese ball; gently roll in nut mixture, coating well. Place on a serving plate. Garnish with pomegranate arils, if desired. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.