These quintessential 1970s appetizers are cheese olive puffs. Some people call them cheese olive balls, but in our neighborhood, puffs won the day.
We grew up eating these guys, and my mom was known for making them and bringing them to almost every neighborhood party they attended, especially during the holidays.
I consider this a family recipe, and it is all the more special because my friend Jennifer shared this recipe at my mom’s funeral. I cannot imagine a more “Jane” funeral than for everyone to leave with a recipe to make.
If you love a good retro appetizer recipe, you will probably also flip for mom’s cream cheese and red sauce. And for ease of browsing, you can find all my appetizer recipes in one place.
Thanks so much for being here!
Why Make This Recipe
First and foremost, these little appetizers are delicious.
Salty/briny, crisp on the outside, with a little olive surprise in the middle of each one.
This recipe, or similar ones, has been around for probably about 60 years or so and was at the height of popularity in the 70s and 80s.
They are very easy to make, and one recipe makes 40 cheese puffs.
The recipe also readily doubles or even triples. And these freeze well, so you can have a stash in the freezer to bake at a moment’s notice.
In Memory of My Mom
As you may know, my mom passed away on October 16, 2022.
As part of our celebration of life at her funeral, I asked people to stand and share a story about my mom if they had one.
And boy did they ever. Person after person stood and shared a sweet, funny, or poignant story about my mom, and it was such a lovely time of remembrance.
My dear friend, who has known my mom since I first brought her to my home to visit from college, not only shared the story of how mom emailed her with the recipe for cheese olive puffs, she also found the email (from probably 20 years ago), printed it off, and offered it to everyone in attendance.
So people left mom’s funeral not only with great memories of her, but also with one of her recipes.
Thanks, Jennifer. So perfect.
How to Make Cheese Olive Puffs
As I said at the beginning, these are easy to make, and they have a pretty short list of ingredients.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Ingredients and Substitutions
- butter: There is plenty of salt in both the cheese and the olives, so you can use unsalted butter. If all you have is salted butter, that’ll work just fine, though.
- cheddar cheese: I like to use extra sharp, but use your favorite
- flour: regular all-purpose flour gives these cheesy guys some structure and “crumb” as opposed to just unrelenting cheesiness
- paprika: I used smoked sweet paprika. Feel free to use plain paprika or spice things up with hot smoked paprika
- black pepper: Not called for in the original recipe, black pepper provides a bit of bite
- green olives: Mom calls for the small, green variety, so that’s what I used, too
Cheese olive balls are very easy to make. They are a touch tedious to shape, but you can get your kids to help. Or you can just find your Zen place while doing it yourself.
Here’s what you’ll do:
- Grate the cheese and drain the olives.
- Whisk paprika and pepper into the flour.
- Mix butter and cheese together until well combined and then add the flour mixture.
- Gather into a ball.
Once you have the dough, it’s a simple matter of shaping the puffs:
- Make an indentation with your thumb in your piece of dough.
- Stick an olive in there.
- Shape the dough up and around the olive, and then pinch it shut.
- Roll the dough into a neat ball.
- Repeat 39 times!
Equipment You May Need
Aside from a couple of half-sheet pans, parchment paper, and a cooling rack, you don’t need a ton of specialized equipment.
If you don’t have a scale, you may also want to use a small portion scoop for the dough so your olive balls are all the same size.
If you do a lot of baking, don’t miss my list of essential tools for serious bakers.
Yes, my first love will always be my mom’s version, but this is such an easy recipe to vary, I think you should go for it.
Swap out the cheddar for pretty much any grating cheese you can think of and stuff the dough with anything that would be tasty surrounded by cheese.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
- Spicy Jalapeno Puffs: Trade the cheddar for pepper jack or habanero jack, add a touch of cumin and/or ground chipotle powder, and wrap your dough around either pickled jalapeno slices or spicy pepper-stuffed olives
- Ham and Swiss Puffs: Trade the cheddar for shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese and wrap your dough around a cube of ham
- Southern Cheese Crackers: Trade the paprika for cayenne pepper (more or less than the 1/2 teaspoon called for, to taste). Instead of stuffing the dough, shape the dough into a log and refrigerate until firm. Slice into 1/4″ slices and place a pecan half in the center of each round. Bake at 400F for 10-12 minutes
Tips for Success
Do not use pre-shredded cheese in this recipe. You want the cheese to blend in with the rest of the ingredients, and the coating on pre-shredded will keep it from doing so.
For nice, round, cheese puffs without too much spread or a “hump” where the olive is, refrigerate the balls of dough while the oven preheats, around 20 minutes.
To minimize greasiness, remove the baked puffs to a paper towel for a minute before transferring to a cooling rack. The paper will absorb a little of the excess fat.
Cheese Puffs Q & A
Store, tightly covered, in the fridge for 4-5 days. Reheat for 5 minutes at 325F or for a few seconds in the microwave. Note, they will be less crisp if you microwave them.
That’s part of their charm, but if you’d like them to be a bit less greasy, you can either increase the flour to 6 oz/1 1/2 cups or keep the flour as is and reduce the amount of butter to 3 oz/6 Tablespoons/ 3/4 stick
Absolutely. Substitute your favorite cup for cup gluten-free flour blend for the all-purpose flour.
Yes. Place the olive-stuffed dough balls on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Freeze for two hours or until firm, and then transfer to a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out as much air as you can before sealing. These will keep just fine for up to 3 months. Bake from frozen in a 400F preheated oven. Let the puffs sit out while the oven preheats and then bake for 15-16 minutes, until set and golden brown.
More Retro Appetizers to Enjoy
Why not put on a whole retro-appetizer spread?
And, as far as I’m concerned, you haven’t gone all-in for all the retro goodness if you don’t make some poppy seed party ham biscuits.
A Note About Measurements
NOTE: Most of my recipes are written by weight and not volume, even the liquids.
Even though I try to provide you with volume measurements as well, I encourage you to buy a kitchen scale for ease of measuring, accuracy, and consistency.
Don't let its small price and small size fool you. The Escali Primo is an accurate and easy-to-use food scale that I have used for years. It's easy to store, easy to use, has a tare function, and easily switches between grams and ounces/pounds for accurate measurements.
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- 126 grams (4.5 oz, about 1 cup) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (or plain paprika)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 112 grams (4 oz, 1 stick) salted or unsalted butter, softened
- 196 grams (7 oz or about 2 cups) extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 40 small, green, pimento-stuffed olives
- Whisk together the flour, paprika, and pepper.
- Set aside.
- Using a box grater, shred the cheddar cheese. Set aside.
- Drain the olives on paper towels and blot well them until they are dry.
- In a large bowl using a hand mixer or in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until creamy.
- Add the shredded cheese to the butter and beat until fairly well-combined.
- With the mixer off, dump in the flour mixture, and mix on low speed until you get a uniformly orange dough. This will take about 1-2 minutes. Scrape the bowl as necessary.
- If baking all the puffs at once, line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper. If making to freeze for later, you'll only need one lined baking sheet. (See Notes below)
- Pinch off a piece of dough that's about 2 teaspoons. If weighing, shoot for 9.8-10 grams or .35-.40 ounces.
- Holding the piece of dough in the palm of your hand, make an indention in the center with your finger.
- Place an olive in the indention and then wrap the dough around it, pinching it shut. Then roll the ball into a nice round and place on the baking sheet. Continue until you've used all the dough.
- Refrigerate the puffs while you preheat your oven to 400F. Place oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
- When your oven is hot, bake the trays for 15 minutes, rotating the pans and swapping racks after about 10 minutes.
- Remove to paper towels to drain for a minute and then serve hot. You can also allow them to come to room temperature and reheat later to serve.
To Bake From Frozen
Store in the fridge, tightly covered, for 4-5 days. Reheat at 325F for 5 minutes.
You can also heat in the microwave for a few seconds, but note they will be less crisp.
Nutrition InformationYield 20 Serving Size 2 puffs
Amount Per Serving Calories 110Total Fat 8.5gSaturated Fat 5.1gCholesterol 22mgSodium 149mgCarbohydrates 5.4gFiber 0.4gSugar 0.1gProtein 3.2g
The stated nutritional information is provided as a courtesy. It is calculated through third party software and is intended as a guideline only.
I hope you love these cheese olive puffs. It really is a treasured recipe, and even more so now that mom is gone.
Thanks so much for spending some time with me today. Take care, and have a lovely day.
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