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Ever tried cheese curds? If not, they are a delicacy from Wisconsin that you’ll be missing out on if you don’t try them soon. They are basically fresh cheese before it’s been aged and pressed. While the local Wisconsinites eat them straight up, to the rest of the world they’re usually served deep-fried or as one of the ingredients in poutine. We’ve got all the information about cheese curds here at the Traveling Cheesehead! After all, shouldn’t a person from America’s Dairyland help break you into this great calcium-fortified treat?
If cheese is at the top of your ‘favorite food list’, then you must carefully (and I mean, thoroughly) read this article. Cheese curd is yet another variety to the ever-growing number of cheese by-products. But before tasting this delectable food, let us first know how it came to be and why it’s here to stay.
I’m a Wisconsin girl so I like to think that I know cheese. It is one of the products the state is well known for and is something I grew up eating quite often, especially during the holidays. Even though the name suggests they might be a less than tasty item, they are delicious!
All About Cheese Curds
Cheese is believed to be discovered by an unknown nomad. This nomad lived in the Middle East and was, as legend would say, on his way to a very long journey. He prepared for it by pouring in lots of milk in a saddlebag. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately for cheese-lovers out there), the milk curdled after several hours of riding under the sun. What was supposed to be milk turned into white curds with liquid!
The science behind this is, the saddlebag has an enzyme (rennin) that causes coagulation. The rennin enzyme can be found in the bag because it is made from the stomach of young cows. Well, the rest as we all love to say, is history.
Wisconsin Cheese Curds Roots
Cheese curds, although believed to have existed much earlier, were reportedly discovered by accident by some cheese scientists through the University of Wisconsin in their attempt to create a pure cholesterol product that still has the squeaking sound. The lab rats who consumed the first cheese curds then became capable of beer drinking.
While most cheese would take about 60 days to coagulate, cheese curds can be ‘harvested’ way, way before they become cheeses. So, in essence, cheese curd is ‘premature cheese’.
A New York Times article in 1911, on the other hand, referred to a very old Celtic song (about the 12th century) where cheese curds were mentioned. This song was entitled: ‘Visions of MacGonlannee’. You now have a rough idea of how old cheese curds are, haven’t you?
Cheese Curds are Diverse
Cheese curds are fresh by-products of cheddar cheese (or at least most of them are; some can be made from mozzarella, Colby, or Monterey jack cheeses). While most cheese would take about 60 days to coagulate, cheese curds can be ‘harvested’ way, way before they become cheeses. So, in essence, the cheese curd is ‘premature cheese’.
Cheese curds are basically what cheddar cheese is before it is pressed into a block and aged (cheddar cheese you see in your grocery store is aged usually at least 60 days and up to several years). It’s a very fresh product (think baby cheese or newborn cheese!) and it tastes best when eaten as soon after being made as possible. In my opinion cheese curds taste best the same day they are made but that’s not an option for a lot of people. I’m lucky enough to live near several cheese factories that make cheese curds so I go purchase them on the days they make them.
Real People Eat Them Naked
OK, get your mind out of the gutter – we wear clothes. I mean the CURDS are naked. Most people think of them as battered and fried, but that is for the heathens!
The best way to eat them is by eating them fresh. The good news? Canada and the United States have many stores that sell cheese curds in retail. There are also a lot of factories that manufacture them (so don’t worry about running out of cheese curd stocks!).
The top two places that produce and sell cheese curds are Quebec and Wisconsin. So, if you are not from one of these two places or are far from factories that produce cheese curds, then they could be foreign to you.
The best part of eating them is to hear the ‘fresh’ squeak. It takes only twelve hours before they become unfresh. Another twelve hours after that and they are nothing but unusable cheese.
Fresh cheese curds are about the size of peanuts and are usually orange in color. It tastes much like other dairy products and about as firm as most cheeses are. The difference is, cheese curds have a rubber-like texture as compared to cheese that has the texture of clay. And unlike most junk foods that are crunchy, cheese curds are moist and cool while having the same salty taste as your regular snacks.
If you ever find yourself in Madison Wisconsin in the summer on a Saturday, you need to go to the Dane County Farmer’s Market on the square to not only people watch, but get a bag of squeaky golden goodness to try.
I know – you have cheese curds at your local grocery! Although fresh cheese curds may be available at your local supermarket, it’s likely they are at least a week old by that time. Because cheese curds are a fresh cheese product they do start to lose their flavor fairly quickly. Cheese curds are best if eaten within a week of being made. If you don’t have the luxury of going directly to a cheese factory to buy fresh cheese curds order them online or by phone from a cheese factory that ships them the same day they make them. You’ll be glad you went to the trouble of ordering the freshest curds possible.
Cheese Curds Culver’s
There are several ways of serving cheese curds. In Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, cheese curds are usually deep-fried and served in fairs and carnivals and sometimes in bars or fast food chains (Culver’s and A&W restaurants are examples of this). These deep-fried treats are first covered with batter (beer-based) such as what is used in onion rings. In the absence of this type of batter, the usual breading is used. The good thing about this? It tastes much like mozzarella cheese sticks.
Some people dip them in ketchup, but Ranch dressing is the most popular choice.
Cheese Curds and Gravy
Another popular way of eating cheese curds is poutine. This is a French-Canadian recipe that tops French fries with cheese curds that are also oozing with mouth-watering gravy. Yet other ways of consumption is by sprinkling powdered cheeses that are flavored: garlic, jalapeno, Cajun, chipotle, pesto, paprika, butter, pepper, or lemon) then serving them like potato chips.
How to make Cheese Curds
Yes, you can make this squeaky goodness yourself, in your own kitchen. This video will show you how easy it is! It is it’s pretty much the basis of Cheddar Cheese, and only takes 5 ingredients!
Cheese curds are definitely rare. As mentioned, there are just a handful of places where they are produced and enjoyed. Although cheese curds are not available for everyone to enjoy, for those who do, let us say you are the lucky ones on the planet!