Squeaky and salty, rubbery and moist. Or if you prefer – gooey and warm with a crispy light beer batter breading.
If you’re a Wisconsinite, you already know we’re talking about cheese curds. Fresh or fried – cheese curds are more than just another appetizer, they’re a unique Wisconsin delicacy.
You may be surprised to meet people from other states who’ve never tried or even heard of eating curds. But once they do, they never forget the experience.
Here in Wisconsin, we’re actually quite lucky to be able to enjoy this snack. There’s a reason why you simply can’t get good cheese curds anywhere but America’s Dairyland. Keep reading to find out more…
The Story Behind Squeaky-Fresh Wisconsin Cheese Curds
Cheese curds are simply pieces of baby cheddar – or in other words – super mild cheddar that is not aged at all. It’s also a more natural form of cheese as it hasn’t undergone any processing.
Curds are actually considered a by-product of the cheese-making process. Every kind of cheese produces curds, which are taken off the vat before being molded into blocks and aged for the appropriate time.
Of course, in Wisconsin, if it comes from a cow, we’ll find a way to use it – period. (We do have a Cow Chip Throwing Contest & Festival after all.)
The fist step in getting fresh cheese curds is to separate the curds and whey. To do this – cheesemakers use a special enzyme known as rennet.
Rennet actually comes from the fourth stomach of a calf. Weird but true. And even though it sounds a little gross – it makes sense when you think about it, because baby cows are the ones meant to be digesting cow’s milk.
This unique enzyme helps separate the curds from the liquid whey.There is actually an interesting and very precise science involved in creating squeaky curds. It requires the milk to be warmed to a specific temperature and the curds must reach a certain pH level. You can find out more in an article from ChefSteps.com. As they explain…
“Skillful preparation and impeccable freshness are the keys to top-notch squeaky cheese curds. Perfecting the squeak requires that you create a mesh of long, elastic protein strands that will rub against the enamel of your teeth as you bite…”
The final step is to salt those little nuggets of cheese while they are still warm. After a quick cool down, they are almost immediately sent off to stores to be devoured by cheese-aholics all over Wisconsin.
Which leads us to…
The Real Reason Wisconsin Has the Best Cheese Curds
The biggest reason Wisconsin is the place to enjoy fresh cheese curds is because we’re practically the only state that actually can do it.
That’s because you have to eat those curds within 12 hours before they loose the squeak and start drying out. Believe me, nobody here likes squeak-less curds. That’s the number one sign they’re not fresh.
Since there are so many cheese factories and dairies in our state – we have easy access to the freshest, squeakiest cheddar morsels. Getting cheese curds like ours is a pretty difficult task in any other part of the country. People have been known to drive for hours to reach Wisconsin and buy fresh cheese curds.
The squeaks you hear inside your mouth have been known to freak out some first-time eaters. It kind of sounds like you’re chewing on a rubber band. Or, as the New York Times describes it, the sound is like “balloons trying to neck.”
It might also seem strange that bags of fresh cheese curds are left sitting out at room temperature instead of staying cold in the refrigerator. But that’s because cooling them will only take away from that perfect taste and squeaky texture we love.
If you do have to put your curds in the refrigerator, and you still want some squeak, there are some tricks that sometimes work. Just let them sit out for an hour, or heat them in the microwave for a few seconds to bring back that squeak.
How You Know It’s an Authentic Deep-Fried Cheese Curd
Once you taste the gooey deliciousness of salty, breaded deep fried cheese curds that melt in our mouth – you’re hooked. But, only if they’re authentic.
Just so we’re straight, the best fried cheese curds cannot be two-day old curds. Those babies still need to be fresh even when they’re fried, at least within 24-hours of being made.
Wisconsin nails this one too. Many of the restaurants with the best deep-fried cheese curds purchase their cheese from nearby suppliers and then hand-batter them before they go in the frier. You can always tell when someone is using a bag of frozen curds.
The freshest fried curds will leave a cheesy string that travels from one half of your half bitten curd to the other half between your teeth. They should also be light, fluffy, smooth and melty – but not too greasy.
The breading on fried curds is probably the second-most-important factor after freshness. The majority of people would agree that too much breading is a bad thing, and the curds with the lightest breading often get rave reviews.
The worst cheese curd experience you can have is biting into a bunch of breading with barely any cheese. That seems to happen when the curds are over-fried, cooking the cheese down to nothing. But the breading can also add to the fried cheese curd’s appeal – particularly if they are beer-battered.
Cheese Curds are Catching On
Our Wisconsin cheese curd traditions have started to spread to other states. Can we blame them? We know they’re practically addictive.
Many cheese factories in our state are now shipping their fresh curds overnight so that other Americans have a chance to enjoy them.
For example, The Cow and The Curd, is a food truck that spreads the goodness of Wisconsin-made cheese curds around the city of Philadelphia. Here’s how they describe it,
“A Wisconsin culinary staple, cheese curds are as common and indispensable in the Midwest as the cheesesteak is in Philadelphia. Despite their ranking as one of the world’s most craved regional foods, cheese curds are relatively unknown in places without cheese factories. Until now…”
And the “Cow,” as they call it, just happens to be the winner of Philadelphia’s “Best Food Truck.”
Perhaps the internet age is partly responsible for the surging popularity of cheese curds. People are discussing them in foodie forums, sharing the best places to get them and spreading the word about the curd.
In 2013, USA Today conducted a poll with its readers to find out what people think is the best regional food in America. The Wisconsin deep-fried cheese curd took 3rd place in a top 10 list. Curds lost to Maryland crabs in 2nd and – for some weird reason – a green chile sauce from Albuquerque, New Mexico won the whole thing.
Reader’s Digest included fresh Wisconsin cheese curds on its list of most craved favorite regional foods.
Even some of the most famous foodies in America are singing the curd’s praises. The Food Network’s Troy Johnson called his first time eating a fried cheese curd “life-changing” in a segment called “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Check out the video below as he retells the story of visiting The Old Fashioned in Madison.
The Old Fashioned just one of many places to get amazing cheese curds. WhooNEW is working on a list post featuring both fresh and fried cheese-curd-providing establishments. We asked our readers to weigh in on Facebook with suggestions – but feel free to add your own favorites in the comments below.
Try Making Your Own Fried Cheese Curds at Home!
If you ever get a craving for fried cheese curds, but you feel like staying home in your sweatpants, you can try frying them up in your own kitchen.
If you don’t have a deep fryer, you can use a large pot. But keep in mind you will need enough oil to completely cover the curds.
The first thing you’ll need is fresh cheese curds, of course. Look for the ones sitting on the little table at your grocery store. Or better yet – head to your favorite local cheese factory so they are super fresh!
There are many different ways to make the batter – and it all depends on your personal preference. AnythingWisconsin.com recommends a batter recipe using pancake mix. Others suggest a blend of panko bread crumbs and all-purpose flour. You can choose between using either milk or beer for the liquid – a win either way for Wisconsin.
The oil should typically be around 375-degrees. Fry the curds for about a minute – or until they breading is a nice, golden brown. If cheese starts oozing out you may be over-cooking them.
Get Detailed Directions from These Recipes:
- Beer-Battered Cheese Curds from WisconsinMade.com
- Cheese Curd History and a Recipe from What’sCookingAmerica.net
- Find a collection of Recipes on Pinterest for fried curds and other ways to use them
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Don’t forget to watch for our Cheese Curd List Post – COMING SOON!