Though cheese curds have been considered (somewhat jokingly) a food group in Wisconsin for decades, they are just now finding their way to other parts of the country. It is time everyone else discover these deep-fried nuggets of heaven. Since June is National Dairy Month, it seems the ideal time to indulge!
Why has Wisconsin had a monopoly on cheese curds? Wisconsinites are serious about cheese and the art of cheesemaking. The USA is home to just 60 master cheesemakers, all of whom live and work in Wisconsin, making it a cheesemaking epicenter.
Cheese curds, a byproduct of the cheesemaking process, need to be consumed fresh—in fact, the closer they are consumed to when they are produced, the better they taste. Most regions of America aren’t heavy cheese makers, hence no cheese byproduct. The time it would take to ship cheese curds from Wisconsin would render them unfresh.
Not only are cheese curds meant to be eaten shortly after they are made—as opposed to nearly every other type of cheese, which proudly touts its age—curds also differ from traditional cheese in that they should never be refrigerated. Why not? Refrigeration dries them out and gives them an overlysalty quality that is unappealing.
Some of this reasoning may be why “cheese snobs,” or cheesemakers such as Ben Shibler of The Cannery in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, don’t consider curds particularly fancy. “Curds almost always lose their identity to be part of a final product,” he says. “We become desensitized to the fanciness of curds because of our constant familiarity with them. But they are definitely a foundation of the art of cheesemaking and deserve as much respect as any finished cheese.”
Sometimes cheese curds are a byproduct of mozzarella or another type of cheese, but by far the most popular ones are cheddar. Cheese curds are either white or yellow, though it is not uncommon to see yellow and green dyed curds at Packers games at Lambeau field.
Some diehards will say there is a difference in taste between white or yellow curds, though any distinction is debatable. “White curds are made with the exact same processes and procedures as yellow curds,” says Shibler. “The only technical difference is yellow curds have a flavorless natural dye called Annatto added to the milk at the start of the cheese make process. I believe our brains see the color of the curd and we subliminally decide before the curd enters our mouth that it is going to be different.”
Nearly every eatery in Wisconsin features cheese curds on the menu. They are eaten both plain and fried—like anything else, fried is arguably better. Cheese curds squeak when bitten, a result of little pockets of air that happen when the curd is formed. If your curd doesn’t squeak, it isn’t fresh.
Shibler recommends enjoying cheese curds deep fried in beer batter. Even better, dip them in Ranch dressing “or sprinkle a handful on top of a gourmet pizza, which is food of the gods in my opinion,” he says.
Malika Bowling is the editor at Roamilicious.com and the author of Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta. She’s been featured on HGTV and Huffington Post and has contributed to Beer Connoisseur, PureWow, and USA Today. Malika has also served as a judge at various culinary competitions and food festivals including the World Food Championships. She loves hiking, exotic travels, and Negronis.
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