These cranberry orange cheese balls are a simple, quick, and delicious appetizer for holiday parties! With thyme, pecans, and a bit of maple syrup, they’re savory, sweet, and a huge crowd pleaser. And, they come together in less than 30 minutes!

Cranberry orange cheese balls on a white plate next to a bottle of champagne, glasses of champagne, and an orange napkin on a beige counter.

Hi, it’s me, I haven’t worn anything fancier than sweatpants in 4 days and I can’t remember what day it is. Actually, I shouldn’t even be here because I promised myself I wouldn’t work at all in-between Christmas and New Year’s but then I needed an appetizer, and I’m a work-aholic, oh well!

Since I’m here anyways, let me introduce you to these cranberry orange cheese balls. They’re the kind of thing you make when you absolutely can’t handle cooking one more dish during the holidays. Or when you just remembered that you’re supposed to bring an appetizer to a Christmas or New Year’s party and have like, half an hour to make one. Not that I’ve ever been there before, neverrrr. 👀

What is a cheese ball?

Oh, the cheese ball. I could wax poetic about a cheese ball. But to keep things simple, they’re literally that. A ball of cheese. Typically made up of goat, blue, or cream cheese with some kind of harder cheese like cheddar, parmesan, and the like. They also have herbs, spices, bacon, veggies, dried fruits, and other add-ins and they’re typically rolled in some kind of crunchy topping like nuts or seeds! Cheese balls are the kind of recipe that your midwestern grandma has in her cookbook on a handwritten recipe card. Yes, they’re simple. But they’re the absolute perfect appetizer. Like, seriously, everyone loves a cheese ball, it’s just facts.

Let’s talk about these cranberry orange cheese balls

Ok, now that we’ve established the cheese ball, let’s talk about these ones! They’re inspired by the classic orange cranberry combo that I totally can’t get enough of in the winter. We’re also adding pecans, thyme, and a touch of maple syrup for that sweet-savory combo. They’re an elevated version of the typical cheese ball you’ve seen at every holiday party.

While you could make one big ball, I like making individuals for optimal cheese-to-coating ratio. Everyone can grab their own servings and it eliminates the problem of having a weird glob of cream cheese sitting on a plate at the end of the night. Oh, and in case you missed it, these cheese balls take less than 20 minutes to make. Hooray!

A white plate of cream cheese on a tan counter next to white and brown bowls of cheese, pecans, dried cranberries, spices, and an orange linen.

The ingredient list

  • Cream cheese – you’ll want full-fat for this recipe.
  • White cheddar – shred your own for the best flavor and texture! I like Tillamook.
  • Maple syrup – for just a touch of sweetness. Use 100% pure maple syrup.
  • Orange zest – just a touch for that citrus-y flavor.
  • Dried cranberries – I use 50% less sugar to control the sweetness. I do not recommend fresh cranberries – they are too tart and will not coat the cheese ball very well.
  • Pecans – for crunch and a nuttiness. We’re also going to be toasting them.
  • Herbs – thyme and parsley. I recommend fresh but dried will work in a pinch.
  • Kitchen basics – Kosher salt and white pepper (black will also work).

How to make this recipe

  1. To make cranberry orange cheese ball bites, beat the cream cheese, white cheddar, maple syrup, orange zest, half of the dried cranberries, half of the toasted pecans, the fresh thyme, salt, and white pepper until smooth.
  2. Scoop the cheese balls with a #40 (1 ounce, 2 Tablespoon) cookie scoop. Roll and place on a sheet pan until the cheese mixture is gone. Then, refrigerate the cheese balls until you’re ready to serve.
  3. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to serve, combine the remaining cranberries, pecans, and parsley in a shallow dish. Roll the cheese balls in the mixture to coat. Serve and enjoy!

Can I make one big cheese ball instead?

You sure can! Just whip up the cheese mixture per usual and then form everything into one big ball instead of a bunch of small balls. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap to help keep its shape and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours until it’s firm. Then, 15 before you want to serve this app, roll it in cranberries, pecans, and herbs!

Serving ideas

You have quite a few options when it comes to serving the cheese balls! Here are just a few of my go-tos:

  • Crackers – water crackers are my favorite but homemade fruit and nut crisps, butter crackers, or any others are great too.
  • Pretzels or breadsticks – poke small pretzel or breadsticks through the top to make it easy for your friends to grab and snack.
  • Vegetables – carrots, celery, radishes, snap peas, cucumbers, or other crudité.
  • Fruit – for a sweet-savory pairing, I love sliced apples, pears, or grapes.
  • Cheese board – add these to a charcuterie or cheese board for a fun snack!
A woman's hand with red nail polish grabbing a cranberry orange cheese ball off a plate next to champagne and an orange napkin on a tan table.

Variations

This recipe is easy and beyond versatile. You can totally switch up this recipe depending on what you like or already have on hand!

  • Cheese – switch the sharp white cheddar with blue cheese, goat cheese, gouda, or gruyere.
  • Sweetener – use honey instead of maple syrup.
  • Citrus – lemon zest would be so lovely in place of orange.
  • Nuts – try walnuts, almonds or pistachios.
  • Herbs – use fresh chives or rosemary instead.
  • Spicy – add a couple of tablespoons of fresh, chopped jalapeños or a few pinches of cayenne if you want to add a spicy element.

A nut-free option

I think we all have a friend with nut allergies and they just want to have fun too! If you want to make nut-free cranberry orange cheese balls, you can use toasted pepitas or sunflower seeds instead. Both will provide crunchiness and toasty flavor without actual nuts! If you need seed-free, you can also just leave out the nuts altogether. Coat the outside of the cheese balls with extra cranberries and herbs instead.

Storing leftovers

If you have leftover cheese balls, yay! More for you. Plus, making mini cranberry orange cheese ball bites allows for better leftovers compared to a big ball. Just place any leftovers in an airtight container and store for up to 5 days. After a while, the nuts will start to soften.

Tips & tricks

  • Soften the cream cheese for 30-60 minutes before you make this recipe. It makes it much easier to whip everything together.
  • Use a hand mixer or stand mixer to beat the ingredients together. You can also do it by hand but the mixers make this recipe so much easier.
  • I like to use a #40 cookie scoop to make portioning go quicker. If you don’t have a #40 (2 Tablespoon) cookie scoop, portion the cheese mixture into 2 Tablespoon-sized balls. For smaller portions, use a #60 cookie scoop (1 Tablespoon).
  • Chill the cheese balls to help keep their shape before coating. This is optional but helps them stay round! If they are too firm, let them warm up for about 15 minutes before coating the outside with the cranberry-pecan mixture.
  • For extra servings, double the recipe. You could even triple or quadruple the recipe if you’re serving to a huge crowd!
A white plate of cranberry orange cheese ball bites on a beige counter next to a cracker, glasses of champagne, and a rust colored napkin.

More easy holiday appetizers

Spicy Deviled Eggs with Crispy Shallots
Fried Burrata with Roasted Peppers & Pesto
Pigs in a Blanket with Everything Seasoning & Parmesan
Savory Palmiers with Parmesan & Everything Bagel Spice

If you make this recipe, I would love it if you left a star rating and review! I read every single comment and love hearing what you think about my recipes. Thank you for supporting Sunday Table!


Cranberry orange cheese balls on a white plate next to an orange linen and champagne with a beige background.
No ratings yet

Cranberry Orange Cheese Balls

Yield: 28 cheese balls
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
Total Time: 30 mins
I could eat 100 of these cranberry orange cheese balls, they are so good. With white cheddar, cranberries, orange zest, thyme, toasted pecans, and maple syrup, they're a sweet, savory, and nutty appetizer. The recipe is easy, has just a handful of ingredients, and comes together in less than 30 minutes for an elegant last-minute party snack. They're perfect for holiday parties like Christmas and New Year's!

Ingredients

  • 16 oz full-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 8 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tbs pure maple syrup
  • 2 tsp orange zest (about 1 large orange)
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper (or black pepper), to taste
  • 2 c toasted pecans, finely chopped, divided
  • 1 1/2 c dried cranberries, finely chopped, divided
  • 1/4 c fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Crackers, veggies, etc., for serving

Equipment

  • #40 cookie scoop (1 ounce, 2 Tablespoons)

Instructions 

  • Add the cream cheese, sharp white cheddar cheese, maple syrup, orange zest, thyme, salt, and pepper to a large bowl. Then, tip in half of the pecans and half of the dried cranberries. (Reserve the remaining pecans and cranberries for later). Use a rubber spatula or hand mixer to mix the ingredients together until it is smooth and combined.
  • Portion the cranberry orange cheese using a #40 (1 ounce, 2 Tablespoon) cookie scoop. Roll each portion of cheese between your palms to create smooth balls. Place the cheese balls on a parchment-lined sheet pan and cover. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.
  • About 15 minutes before serving, remove the cheese balls from the fridge and let them warm up just a bit. Combine the remaining pecans, cranberries, and parsley in a shallow dish or pie plate. Gently roll each cheese ball until the outside is well-coated. If the mixture doesn't stick, use your fingers to gently press the coating on the outside of the cheese balls.
  • Place the prepared cheese balls on a platter. Serve with crackers, pretzels, fruit, vegetables, or other snacks. Enjoy!

Notes

Use a #40 cookie scoop (1 Tablespoon) to make smaller servings (about 56 cheese balls).
Finely chop the cranberries, pecans, and parsley or they will not stick to the cheese balls very well.
Chilling the cheese balls will help them firm up and keep their shape. However, you can assemble them right away if you’re in a rush. They may not keep their shape as well but they’ll still look pretty!
Let the cheese balls warm up for about 15 minutes before rolling. If they’re too firm, the cranberry-pecan mixture will not stick to the outside.
Cuisine: American
Course: Appetizer
Serving: 1cheese ball, Calories: 131kcal, Carbohydrates: 7.7g, Protein: 3.5g, Fat: 10.2g, Saturated Fat: 5.4g, Cholesterol: 26mg, Sodium: 142mg, Potassium: 43mg, Fiber: 0.5g, Sugar: 5.5g, Calcium: 76mg, Iron: 1mg
Did you make this recipe?Tag @sundaytable.co on Instagram!

xo Sara Lynn

Song of the day – What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve by Ella Fitzgerald