Olive Cheese Balls are a delicious, impressive and crowd-pleasing appetizer. Tangy pimiento-stuffed green olives are baked in a cheesy, flaky crust and served hot. The best part? These little bites of heaven can be prepared up to 1 month ahead, frozen and then heated just before serving. Detailed instructions on how to prepare, freeze, and heat are all included, to ensure they come out perfect every time!

Impressive Make Ahead Olive Appetizer

Olive Cheese Balls, also referred to as Baked Cheese Olives, or Hot Cheese Olives, is a classic appetizer recipe dating back to the 1950s – which means it’s been around for close to 70 years! They’re that good. Plus, they go perfectly with another icon of the ’50s – martinis, Robert’s and my favorite cocktail.

Versions of this recipe have been given to me over the years, dating back to the early 1980s when I was living in Minneapolis, and one of my roommates made them for a cocktail party we were hosting. I had forgotten about them, until a few years ago when my cousin Beth Kidwell gave me a slightly different version. The basic ingredients are the same; it’s the method that’s different. And the Olive Cheese Balls recipe I’m sharing today is my adaptation of those two versions.

How to Make Olive Cheese Balls

Crispy, briny, slightly nutty tasting, pimiento-stuffed green olives are nestled in a scrumptious crust of butter and Cheddar cheese spiked with paprika and cayenne pepper. After baking, these little bites of deliciousness are flaky and cheesy on the outside, juicy and tangy on the inside. Yum!!

Here are the steps to follow in assembling and baking these delectable little bites:

  1. Dry olives.
    Drain liquid from olives and place on paper towel to dry. Make sure they are very dry before wrapping with the pastry.
  2. Combine dry ingredients for dough.
    In a small mixing bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup flour, paprika, salt and cayenne. Set aside.
  3. Combine butter and cheese.
    Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy. Beat in the cheese until well blended.
  4. Add flour mixture; refrigerate dough.
    Blend in the flour mixture just until combined. Mix in additional flour as needed. The dough should be crumbly and fairly dry, but hold together when pinched. (If it’s too wet, it will spread when baked.) Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
  5. Enclose olives in dough.
    Pinch off a piece of dough around the size of a walnut half; flatten into a thin, oval shape and wrap around an olive, enclosing it completely. Make sure the dough is tight around the olive. Place on a cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and olives.
  6. Chill olives.
    Refrigerate olives until very cold – at least 1 hour, up to overnight.
  7. Prep oven and baking dish.
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  8. Bake olives.
    Place refrigerated (cold) cheese olives on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until dough is set and they are lightly browned.
  9. Cool and serve.
    Cool baked olives for a few minutes, then serve.
White rectangular platter filled with Olive Cheese Balls. In front are two cheese balls cut in half, to show olive inside

Tips on Preparing Cheese Olive Balls

These Cheese Olives are easy to prepare, but you do need to pay attention to my directions and ingredient quantities. Here are my tips that ensure they’ll come out perfect, every time:

  • Place the olives on paper towel to dry before wrapping. This is a must! Otherwise, the briny liquid makes the pastry dough too wet.
  • Use an electric mixer. It’s important to make sure that the ingredients are blended together well. Otherwise, the dough can be dry and crumbly, making it difficult to wrap the olives. I’ve never done it, but you could probably use a food processor as well.
  • Don’t add all the flour at once. Too much flour will also make the dough dry; not enough and the dough will be wet and spread when baked. The amount of flour needed depends on the quantity of water in your butter, as well as the humidity levels where you live – and on the day you’re cooking. So, add 1/2 cup flour to start, then add more if the dough is too wet.
  • Refrigerate the pastry-wrapped olives before baking. Having made these balls several times, I find they come out best if prepared and then refrigerated for at least 1 hour before baking. If the dough is too warm, it can spread and they don’t keep a nice rounded shape.
White rectangular platter filled with Olive Cheese Balls. On the right side, two balls are cut in half, showing the olives inside
What are the best olives to use?

The traditional recipes for Cheese Olive Balls call for Manzanilla, or small green pimiento-stuffed olives, usually from Spain. I think their briny, nutty and a bit smoky flavor pairs perfectly with the Cheddar cheese in the crust.

What kind of cheese do you eat with olives?

With the Manzanilla olives, Cheddar cheese is the perfect flavor match. And, it’s semi-soft texture means it will melt easily. Use a good quality, sharp Cheddar for the most flavor.

How to Serve this Olive Ball Recipe

I like to place the baked olives on a serving platter and pass them to my guests. Make sure they have a napkin as sometimes the cheese in the dough can make them a tad greasy.

How to Store Baked Cheese Balls

If making ahead, prepare the olives but don’t bake. Place on an unlined cookie sheet in a single layer and freeze. Once frozen, move to a ziptop baggie and place back in the freezer. They will keep for around 1 month.

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Green platter underneath a yellow napkin, martini and small bowl of Olive Cheese Balls

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small white plate holding a few Olive Cheese Balls, sitting next to a martini

Olive Cheese Balls

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

5 from 5 reviews

Olive Cheese Balls are a delicious, impressive and crowd-pleasing appetizer. Tangy pimiento-stuffed green olives are baked in a cheesy, flaky crust and served hot. The best part? These little bites of heaven can be prepared up to 1 month ahead, frozen and then heated just before serving.

Note that the yield (30 to 36 olives) assumes using small Manzanilla olives that are around 3/4-inch long.

  • Prep Time: 1 hour 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 17 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
  • Yield: Around 30 to 36 one-bite balls 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Ingredients

Scale
  • Around 3 dozen small (Manzanilla) pimiento-stuffed green olives (7 ounce bottle, with leftovers)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, or more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 4 to 5 shakes cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1/4 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (around 1 cup packed)

Instructions

  1. Drain liquid from olives and place on paper towel to dry. Make sure they are very dry before wrapping with the pastry.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup flour, paprika, salt and cayenne. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy. Beat in the cheese until well blended.
  4. Blend in the flour mixture just until combined. Mix in additional flour as needed. The dough should be crumbly and fairly dry, but hold together when pinched. (If it’s too wet, it will spread when baked.) 
  5. Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
  6. Pinch off a piece of dough around the size of a walnut half; flatten into a thin, oval shape and wrap around an olive, enclosing it completely. Make sure the dough is tight around the olive.
  7. Place on a cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and olives. Refrigerate olives until very cold – at least 1 hour, up to overnight.
  8. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  9. Place refrigerated (cold) cheese olives on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until dough is set and they are lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes, then serve.

Notes

Make ahead: cheese olives can be prepared but not baked and frozen on a single cookie sheet (don’t use parchment paper). When frozen, move to a zip top baggie and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw on paper towel (to absorb moisture) for around 4 to 5 minutes, then bake on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet as above. They may take a few more minutes.

  • Author: Lee Clayton Roper
  • Category: one-bite appetizers, make ahead

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Comments

  1. I grew up in the 80’s with my mom making a version of these (slightly different measurements and baked at 350 degrees), but still yummy and present at every family holiday I could ever remember. I started making them myself for holidays and other parties about 25 years ago and have continued the tradition. I will say I have played with different spices (currently a mix of chilli powder, paprika, and a touch of chipotle powder) and cheeses (currently a mix of sharp cheddar, pepper jack, and mild cheddar) over the years just not the olives. Of course my mother-in-law keeps trying to convince me to use black olives (never going to happen). I did recently see a version with worchestershire and an egg I’m a bit skeptical about though.






    1. I love your adaptions – I’m going to have to try those. And I agree with you, not sure what the egg would do to the texture. Thanks for sharing!

      1. I love finding this recipe!
        My mom used to make them on the late 1960s in Kansas City. Always a family and crowd favorite.

  2. Total disaster for me

    I followed the recipe precisely;
    drained and placed the olives in a tea towel, hand grated the cheese, butter from the local dairy, refrigerated after shaping the dough around the olives. Bit t when they were baking, the dough completely melted and the olives are swimming in a pool of cheese sauce. I let them cool and ate the mixture. It was delicious with a briny, cheesy sauce but you couldn’t pick them up and nibble them.
    Gonna try them again, but any suggestions?

    1. I’m so sorry our recipe didn’t work for you. It sounds like you did everything right! It’s possible your dough-wrapped olives weren’t cold enough, or that your dough was too wet (not enough flour). Next time, make sure your dough is just moist enough to hold together. And, I would freeze the dough-wrapped olives and bake from frozen. I hope this helps!

  3. fabulous. I have been making these for 20 years!- but drying the olives makes a big difference. I used my food processor and it made it so much quicker. Delicious. I also have used anchovy olives..great too!






    1. I’m guessing that the olives you used were larger than the small (Manzanilla) pimiento-stuffed green olives that I find in my grocery store. I’m going to add more detail in the recipe card about the size of olives.

  4. Do you think cocktail onions be used in place of the olives? I’m attempting to find a recipe for this appetizer my mom used to make. Any help is much appreciated!

    1. I’ve never made it with cocktail onions, but you could give it a try. The flavors will blend nicely. Like the olives, just make sure the onions are as dry as possible. If you do make them, report back on how it turns out!

  5. When making for a lunch with finger sandwiches & other foods, how many olive cheese balls do you plan per person?

    1. Good question. I would say 3 to 4 olives per person for a luncheon, a few more for a dinner. The good news is that you can make a whole batch of these cheese olives, freeze them and then just take them out, thaw and bake as needed. They only take 4 to 5 minutes to thaw.

  6. Had a person who didn’t like olives so I made a few with cherry tomatoes – he liked them.
    then I started experimenting — uned some Kalamatas, some Manzanillas and tried one (long one) with a gherkin pickle.
    the lady who tried the gherkin pickle absolutely loved it and wants me to make more.
    I think that the next time, I’ll chop up a mixture of olives, mix them in the dough and stuff them with olive size slices of gherkin – wish me luck!






    1. I love all of your creative ideas with this recipe! I’m definitely going to try it with the gherkins. Let me know how the olive + gherkin version comes out.

      1. Patrice – I’m so sorry these didn’t work for you. Yes they need to be very cold when you bake them. Also, the dough needs to be fairly dry – if it’s too wet, it will melt. I’m going to move the tips outlined above in the post into the recipe card – maybe that will help.

  7. I can’t wait to make this for company. I do have several friends say they only like kalamata olives….can I use this olive with your recipe? Would anything be different in the recipe?
    I’d love to have a plate of Kalamata and and plate of Manzanilla.
    Thank you for any help.

    1. I’ve never made them with Kalamata olives. I think they would be delicious! As in this recipe, just make sure the olives are very dry – moisture may gather inside where the pit used to be. Let me know how they turn out!

large white platter holding many Olive Cheese Balls, sitting on top of an orange napkin and a green platter

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About the author

Hi, I'm Lee.

I am inspired by my mother, Sally’s, love of cooking and entertaining to gather friends and family together over great meals and conversation. In fact, I held my first dinner party at the age of 16. Throughout the years, I’ve provided recipes, menu advice and cooking tips to friends seeking uncomplicated and delicious ideas for home entertaining.


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