3 Recipes To Amp Up a Holiday Cheese Platter

New Year's Eve Cheese Board

By Gabrielle. Photos by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.

Okay you guys. Tell me how you handle New Year’s Eve? Do you stay in or go out? Get sitters or bring the kids? Or maybe the party is at your house, and the guests come to you!

Our New Year’s Eve celebrations seem to change every year, but even when it’s just us, and we’re cozy at home, we love to set out a celebratory feast of finger foods. Think dips, appetizers, hors d’oeuvres. We want to eat well, but we don’t really want to cook. And this kind of food is perfect.

Nuts and berries for cheese buffetcheese appetizer plates for New Year's Evelavender lemon goat cheese with bread-2

So I asked Lindsey Johnson for some ideas on how to improve our casual New Year’s Eve feast, and she offered up three amazing recipes.

New Year's Eve bacon jam and candied nutscheese plate for new year'scheese appetizer plate

Let’s get to nibbling.

appetizers for new year's evecheese party for New Year's Eve

Here’s what Lindsey says:

Appetizers are by far my favorite party food. Amidst all the sugar, sugar, SUGAR of the holidays, it’s nice to enjoy a plate of savory little bites of this and that. A cheese plate is one of the easiest, and always-welcome kind of appetizer. A few years back I wrote about putting together the perfect cheese board, and now I want to share three fun things you can do to add some extra holiday pep. Adding some unexpected and delicious elements will help your party food be not only tasty, but memorable too.

A good cheese board will already include accompaniments like dried and fresh fruit, preserves, nuts, and an array of crackers, toast, and sliced bread. I like adding some special homemade or semi-homemade elements that coordinate well with cheese and accompaniments. They just sort of help bump things up to a fancier level, which is nice for holiday parties and other celebrations. You can certainly peruse the aisles of condiments at the grocery store or a specialized gourmet market, but I love making things from scratch. I have zero problem combining homemade recipes with other items that I’ve purchased.

Cheese Platter for the holidays

First up, Caramelized Onion Bacon Jam. (Yes. It’s as good as it sounds!)

Bacon Jam

Caramelized onions are incredibly easy to make. The recipe below may seem complicated, but it’s really nothing more than cooking bacon, saving some of the fat, and cooking a bunch of onions until they become golden brown and soft as butter. And to turn the mixture into “jam”, a mixture of sweeteners, vinegar, and a bit of mustard powder bring it all together. If you’re a fan of BBQ baked beans, that’s kind of what this tastes like — minus the beans of course. : )

Bacon jam is kind of a life-altering condiment. You’ll wonder why you’ve ever been so long without it. It’s fantastic with cheese, even though it’s a little rich. While the bacon jam goes with almost every kind of cheese I can think of, it’s particularly good with Swiss and cheddar-style cheeses or blues. It holds up really well to strong cheeses, partly due to its tangy-sweet flavor. Try a little slathered on a slice of pear or tart apple, followed by a bit of cheese.

Besides being a fantastic part of a cheese board, it’s great on baked potatoes, burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and breakfast sandwiches. Seriously, your guests will be talking about this stuff for weeks afterwards.

bacon jam and candied nuts

Next up is one of my family’s very favorite holiday recipes that comes from an old Land O’ Lakes cookbook. The original recipe calls for finely grated orange zest and spices, but I’ve made a few variations that I’ve included below. These nuts are addictive as can be. I’ve put them out on a holiday buffet and people sort of pass them by, then they may try one or two as the party goes on. Pretty soon the whole bowl is empty and people are raving about them, or sneaking handfuls in their pockets. (True story.)

Nuts are a natural accompaniment for a well-laid cheese platter. And yes, these are on the sweeter side, but a few nuts and a slice or two of cheese is very satisfying together! The crisp exterior comes from cloaking toasted nuts in a meringue and baking them in melted butter. Like I said, addictive.

bread with lavender lemon goat cheese

Lastly, a super easy way to make goat cheese un-boring. My family and friends know that I adore goat cheese in any way, shape, or form, so it’s always going to be part of a cheese plate at my parties. But it can seem a little boring or plain. Sure, you can find chevre that has already been rolled in herbs or spices, or mixed with different things, but I like to do it myself. It tastes and looks fresher on the table.

My favorite combo of the moment with goat cheese is lemon and lavender. It’s a nice foil to the creamy, tangy cheese and isn’t a common flavor you’d expect during the holidays. And if you aren’t a fan of lavender? No worries. You can use fresh snipped herbs instead. But try the lemon zest! It’s very refreshing. It’s great smeared on a piece of soft bread or a cracker and some fruit on the side. (I also quite enjoy the leftovers smeared on toast with a little cherry jam the next morning for breakfast.)

cheese buffetCheese Platter for New Year's Eve

If you’re curious about the cheeses I’ve included, most can be purchased at a well-stocked grocery store. I really love the cheese sections at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. But don’t let not having one of those stores nearby keep you from creating an awesome cheese board. (See this post for suggestions on what to choose.)

lemon lavender goat cheese log

Left to right: Cave Aged Gruyère (flat rectangle), chèvre (lavender lemon goat cheese), 1000 Day Gouda

Stilton Beecher's Flagship and Toscano Cheeses

Left to right: Stilton, Beecher’s Flagship, and Pecorino Toscano (rubbed with black pepper)

This collection of cheeses is pretty friendly for cheese lovers as well as anyone who prefers milder cheese. It’s also pretty kid-friendly if there are any youngsters at the party. (Also, you can make a small cheese board for kids that includes cubes or slices of cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Colby, etc..)

Bacon Jam with Caramelized OnionsNew Year's Eve Cheese Buffet

The crackers and breads are: cranberry and hazlenut rusks ( , on the left), brioche toasts (middle), rosemary Italian-style crackers, sourdough baguette, and baby boule (not pictured above).

For fruit, I chose things that would go well together, but also added in some salty, briny kalamata olives. Dried apricots and cherries, fresh blackberries, tangerines, and pears go great with the Caramelized Onion Bacon Jam as well as the cheeses.

In addition to the Sugared Nuts, I included a bowl of dry-roasted pistachios. I also like to include condiments like raw honey and whole grain mustard because they are so good drizzled or slathered on bread with a slice or smear of cheese.

cheese appetizer plates

For beverages, we enjoy sparkling fruit juices, hard cider, or crisp white wine with a cheese board like this one. But sparkling and still water are nice to have on the table too.

And now, for the recipes!

Caramelized Onion Bacon Jam

Caramelized Onion Bacon Jam
adapted from several sources

12 ounces thick cut applewood smoked bacon, diced
2 to 2 1/2 pounds onions, thinly sliced (about 6 medium large)
Sea salt, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard powder (or 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the diced bacon to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until bacon is nicely browned, but not too crispy. With a slotted spoon, remove bacon from the pan and drain on a plate lined with paper towels. Pour out all but 2 tablespoons of the rendered bacon fat from the pan.

2. Add the sliced onions to the pan and season well with sea salt. Cook, stirring frequently, scraping up the cooked bits on the bottom of the pan. The onions will start to wilt, soften, and lose their volume as they cook. Turn heat to low and cover the pan. The water that evaporates from the onions will drip back into the pan and keep them from burning. Allow them to cook for 45-50 minutes, stirring every once in awhile, until the onions are golden brown.

3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients – maple syrup through black pepper. Set aside.

4. After the 45-50 minutes, remove the lid from the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions become a deep golden brown color. If they brown too quickly, lower the heat a little. Add the minced sage and garlic to the pan. Cook for 30-60 seconds more, stirring constantly. Add the cooked bacon and maple syrup mixture. Stir well, making sure to scrape up any cooked bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the bacon jam thickens and turns a deep brown color. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

5. If desired, the mixture can be transferred to a food processor and pulsed a few times to form a thick paste, or left on the chunkier side as is.

6. Transfer the jam to a lidded jar and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

To serve
Warm the bacon jam in a small pan on the stove or in the microwave. The jam is best served warm or at room temperature.

Makes 2 about cups.

sugared roasted nuts

Sugared Nuts
adapted from Land O’ Lakes

2 cups whole almonds
1 1/2 cups pecan halves
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups whole cashews
2 egg whites, at room temperature
Large pinch sea salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup butter

1. Heat oven to 325°F. Spread nuts in an even layer on a rimmed jelly roll pan. Keep the hazelnuts of to one side, separate from the other nuts. Bake, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly toasted.

2. Meanwhile, using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites with the pinch of salt at high speed, scraping bowl often, until soft peaks form, about 1 to 2 minutes. Continue beating, gradually adding sugar one spoonful at a time, until stiff peaks form, another 1 to 2 minutes. The mixture will be thick and glossy. Beat in the vanilla extract. Fold the nuts into the egg white mixture.

3. In same jelly roll pan, melt butter in oven for about 4 to 6 minutes. Spread nut mixture over melted butter. Bake, stirring every 5-10 minutes, for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until nuts are brown and no butter remains. Cool completely and transfer to an airtight container.

Makes about 6 1/2 cups.

(Omit vanilla extract for each variation below.)

– Orange Spiced – add 1/4 teaspoon each: cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg; and the finely grated zest of 1 large orange to the sugar mixture.
– Lemon Rosemary – after egg whites and sugar are properly beaten, fold in the finely grated zest of 1 large lemon and 1 tablespoon of finely minced fresh rosemary leaves
– Spicy and Sweet – add 1/2 teaspoon each: cinnamon, paprika, and chili powder; and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Any variety of nuts can be used. A nice short cut is to use a container of roasted mixed nuts and skip the roasting part. If the nuts are salted, omit the pinch of salt from the recipe ingredients.

lavender lemon goat cheese with bread

Lemon Lavender Goat Cheese

1 tablespoon culinary grade dried lavender buds
Zest of 1 large lemon, finely grated
5 ounce log fresh goat cheese

Combine lavender and lemon zest. Unwrap goat cheese and roll each side and end in the lavender mixture. Wrap and chill until ready to serve.

Can substitute fresh snipped herbs like chives, rosemary, thyme, or coarsely cracked black peppercorns for the lavender buds.

appetizers for new year'sCheese Board for New Year'scheese and bacon jam toastNew Year's Eve cheese party


Oh my goodness, Lindsey! That bacon jam sounds insanely good, and I adore sugared nuts. I can’t wait to try all three recipes! Thank you so much for sharing these ideas with us. I think this year’s New Year’s Eve feast is going to be our best ever.

Credits: Images, styling & recipe by Lindsey Johnson. Assistance by Amy Christie.

7 thoughts on “3 Recipes To Amp Up a Holiday Cheese Platter”

  1. All of this looks delicious!!! I’m new to this cheese thing, but my favorite cheese combo – That I sometimes as a meal – is Goat Cheese with Multi-grain pita chips (Trader Joe’s), honeycrisp or similar apple slices and some salami on the side! Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks for the tutorial! Cheese boards are so “in” and I get overwhelmed with all the choices. Your recipes are always great, Lindsey!

  3. Looks amazing! I really want to try the bacon jam! For New Year’s Eve, I usually like to go to a party with as many friends as possible, but this year I am 39 weeks pregnant for NYE, so we will porbably have a low key evening. I can’t deal with the idea of just us hanging out at home, so I thought about inviting a few couples over for appetizers and champagne…it’s just whether I want to do all that cleaning/prepwork (see 39 weeks pregnant). :)

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