Holiday Cheese Balls

“Cheese balls” sounds so . . . cheesy . . .  which these are, but there’s also a little sophistication tucked inside: crispy, brown-buttered sage.  Plus, these balls of goat cheese provide the perfect opportunity to get your creative on: I rolled half in pomegranate seeds and dusted the other half with pistachio, as an ode to those red and green balls hanging on my tree. 


But you could also roll them in: chopped chives and slivered almonds, or smoky paprika, or chopped walnuts and dried cranberries. The possibilities are endless, so keep that creativity rolling.  

And while we’re talkin’ cheese, did you know that cheese has a season, just as fruits and vegetables do?  Good cheese—not the shredded Parmesan from Safeway, but fresh cheese, local cheese— is made when animals are breeding, so their milk is available. 

And, spring and summer are the best months to produce cheese anyway, because the food the animals eat adds to the flavor profile: the lush greens impart a richer flavor, versus the dried hay they eat in the winter.  

So even though we’re technically out of the season, you’ll still be able to find goat cheese, either at your local store or, even better, at a local cheese monger (in SF, Cow Girl Creamery is a fav), because during the off months, producers use frozen or powdered milk to make cheese. 

This Christmas, indulge in these little goat cheese balls, because they’re not only tasty, they’re just so dang cute.

Food La La Recipe:              Holiday Cheese Balls

Serves: 14 balls 


  • 2 TBS butter
  • 10-15 leaves fresh sage
  • 1 log goat cheese (11 oz.)
  • ½ cup pistachios, shelled (I prefer unroasted because they’re greener)
  • Zest of two small lemons, chopped into small pieces
  • ½ pomegranate, seeds only
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper


1.     In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt your butter.  The butter should be sizzling.  If not, turn the heat up a tiny bit (but be careful – butter burns quickly!).  Add the sage leaves and let sit for about 1 minute, then flip them over and cook another minute. 

2.     Lay the sage leaves out on a paper towel to dry.  Save the butter.

3.     Crumble goat cheese into a food processor (you can do this with a mixer or even your hands if you need to – just chop up the sage leaves first if you do it by hand).

4.     Add sage leaves and a sprinkle of salt and pepper

5.     Once the butter has cooled (Why? #1), add it to the goat cheese mixture and pulse until it’s a smooth, creamy consistency.  

6.     Roll the goat cheese into 14 uniform balls (they’ll be a little smaller than golf balls) and arrange on a sheet of parchment.  Cover in plastic and let chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes (or quick chill in freezer for about 10).

7.     Meanwhile, lay out your pomegranate seeds on a paper towel to make sure they’re extremely dry (Why? #2)

8.     Either pulse your pistachios in a food processor until they’re finely chopped, or chop by hand.  Mix the pistachios and lemon zest together.

9.     On two separate pieces of parchment, lay out your pomegranates and your pistachio/lemon zest mixture. 

10. Remove the goat cheese from refrigerator and roll seven in pomegranate seeds and remaining seven in the pistachio and lemon mixture to evenly coat


Psst!  Some Recipe Notes:

  • Why? #1: Otherwise the hot butter will melt the cheese
  • Why? #2:  If they’re not, pink pomegranate juice will run into the goat cheese and it won’t look as nice.
  • Note:  If the goat cheese is too cold, the toppings won’t stick well, so just roll each ball in the palm of your hand to warm it a bit. 
  • Note:  Sometimes the pomegranate seeds are tricky to stick – so you have to press a little harder
  • Make ahead?  The night before, form and refrigerate your cheese balls and prepare your toppings (don’t zest the lemon in advance, and be sure to store the pomegranate seeds in refrigerator).  Then, all that's left is a quick assembly!