Cheese Curds: Why Everyone Loves Curds
“Curd Is The Word!” Cheese curds are a delicious comfort food loved by kids and adults. Learn how cheese curds are made and discover recipes that use the famous squeaky cheese.
Cheese curds are the darlings of the cheese world. Each little squeaky and salty morsel is a perfect snack. Kids and adults alike adore them. Many people who visit Wisconsin request them from friends and relatives. Cross the stateline into Wisconsin and you are likely to see a cheese store advertising curds!
Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland, and the cheese curds made here are delicious! The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board has a map listing 166 cheesemaking companies, creameries, and retail outlets across the state. Many of these feature the freshest cheese curds on the planet…but what in the world are they?
Cheese curds are comfort food. Cheese curds are love!
What Is a Cheese Curd?
A great definition of cheese curds is provided by the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin:
“Fresh Cheddar cheese in its natural, random shape and form before being processed into blocks and aged. Curds have a mild taste with a slightly rubbery texture and should squeak when eaten.
Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin
A cheese curd is a type of cheese that has a unique texture and flavor. It is a byproduct of the cheese-making process and is typically made from fresh cow’s milk. During the cheese-making process, milk is coagulated using rennet or an acid, causing it to separate into solid curds and liquid whey. The curds are then cut, heated, and pressed to expel more whey and form the desired texture. Cheese curds are the result of this initial stage of cheesemaking before they are aged or processed further into other types of cheese.
Cheese curds are usually in the form of small, irregularly shaped chunks or cubes. Cheese curds are often enjoyed on their own as a snack, and they are a key ingredient in dishes like poutine, a popular Canadian dish consisting of french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.
Fresh cheese curds are typically enjoyed soon after they are made because they have a unique texture and flavor that changes as they age. They lose their squeakiness and become denser and more flavorful over time, eventually developing into other types of cheeses through further aging and processing.
Eating cheese curds in Wisconsin is a tradition passed down for generations. Curds can be enjoyed as a finger food, but they can also be used in a variety of recipes. Beer-battered deep-fried cheese curds are very popular and can be found on many bar and restaurant menus throughout the Dairy state, usually accompanied by a dipping sauce like Ranch dressing or spicy Chipolte mayo.
What Do Cheese Curds Taste Like?
Fresh cheese curds have a distinct taste and texture that sets them apart from other types of cheese.
They have a mild, clean flavor that is slightly tangy flavor that can vary depending on the type of milk, the culture used, and the cheese-making techniques employed. It is somewhat reminiscent of yogurt or buttermilk. Cheese curds also typically have a slight saltiness to them, though the salt level can vary depending on the producer or recipe.
One of the defining characteristics of fresh cheese curds is their unique texture. When you bite into them, they have a squeaky or rubbery texture. This squeakiness is due to the protein strands aligning in the curd, and it is often associated with the freshness of the curds. As the curds age, they lose their squeakiness and become denser. More on that in a bit. They are not as firm or crumbly as aged cheeses. Instead, they have a bit of bounce to them when you press on them. They also have a high moisture content, contributing to their creamy and moist texture.
How Are Cheese Curds Made?
The process involves curdling milk, separating the curds from the whey, and forming squeaky cheese curds. A step-by-step guide to making cheese curds is described at www.wisconsincheese.com:
- Milk Intake: Quality milk is the starting point for quality cheese curds. It takes approximately 10 pounds of milk to make 1 pound of cheese.
- Testing: All cheese plants constantly screen incoming milk samples for quality and purity.
- Standardization: The milk is weighed, heat treated, or pasteurized for product safety and uniformity.
- Starter Culture: Starter culture is added to help determine the flavor and texture of the cheese.
- Coagulant: A milk-clotting enzyme called rennet is added to coagulate the milk, forming a custard-like mass.
- Cutting: Cutting begins the process of separating the liquid (whey) and the milk solids (curds).
- Stirring & Heating: The curd and the whey are cooked and stirred until the curd reaches the desired temperature and firmness.
- Whey Draining: The whey is drained, leaving the tightly formed curd.
- Curd Transformation: The Curd Is Born!
“Squeaky” Cheese Curds
One of the benefits of buying cheese at a cheese plant is that soon after the cheese curd is formed, it literally “squeaks” when bitten. For those who buy cheese at the grocery store, or order it online, the squeak mysteriously disappears a few hours after opening the package. To reactivate the squeak, simply microwave the curds for just a few seconds. Be careful not to turn the curds into fondue!
History of Cheese Curds
Cheese curds have a long history that can be traced back to Europe, particularly regions known for dairy farming. They were traditionally made as a byproduct of cheesemaking and were popular among farmers and dairy workers due to their high protein content and portability.
Cheese curds gained prominence in the state of Wisconsin, where European settlers brought their cheesemaking techniques. Today, cheese curds are enjoyed fresh in the United States and around the world.
Poutine: Canadians Like Cheese Curds, Too!
To see whether you are a bona fide curd lover, try a Canadian dish called poutine. Poutine is a classic Canadian dish that originated in Quebec. It is a serious comfort food consisting of three main ingredients: french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Poutine has gained popularity for its delicious and indulgent combination of flavors and textures.
Here’s a basic description of how poutine is typically prepared:
- French Fries: Thick-cut french fries are traditionally used for poutine. They are usually crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
- Cheese Curds: Cheese curds are an essential component of poutine. They are fresh, young cheese pieces with a mild and slightly tangy flavor. The cheese curds are added on top of the hot fries so that they start to melt slightly but still maintain their shape and texture. The signature characteristic of poutine is the “squeak” that you get when you bite into the cheese curds.
- Gravy: Poutine is generously smothered with a rich, savory gravy. The gravy is typically made from a combination of beef or chicken stock, flour or cornstarch for thickening, and seasonings. The hot gravy is poured over the fries and cheese curds, allowing the flavors to meld together and partially melt the cheese curds.
The combination of hot fries, slightly melted cheese curds, and savory gravy creates a delightful taste experience. Poutine can be customized and enhanced with various additions or variations, such as adding toppings like bacon, pulled pork, or vegetables, or using different types of cheese or flavored gravies.
Poutine is often enjoyed as a hearty snack or a meal on its own. It is commonly found at fast-food restaurants, diners, food trucks, and specialized poutine shops across Canada. It has also gained popularity in other countries, with variations and adaptations being served in different parts of the world.
Flavored Cheese Curds
Cheese curds are often enjoyed in their natural, unflavored form with their mild and slightly tangy taste. However, there are also flavored cheese curds available that offer additional taste variations. The popularity of flavored cheese curds can vary depending on regional preferences and individual taste preferences. Here are some popular flavored cheese curds that you may come across:
- Garlic and Herb: Cheese curds flavored with garlic and herbs, such as parsley, basil, or dill, provide an extra layer of savory flavor.
- Jalapeño: Spiced up with bits of jalapeño peppers, these cheese curds offer a mild to moderate heat level for those who enjoy a little kick.
- Buffalo: Inspired by the flavors of Buffalo chicken wings, buffalo-flavored cheese curds often incorporate a tangy and spicy buffalo sauce seasoning.
- Ranch: Taking inspiration from the popular salad dressing, ranch-flavored cheese curds often have a blend of herbs, garlic, and buttermilk flavors.
- Cajun: Cajun seasoning, with its blend of spices like paprika, cayenne, and garlic, can be used to season cheese curds, providing a zesty and slightly spicy flavor.
- Dill Pickle: These cheese curds are seasoned with dill pickle flavor, giving them a tangy and briny taste reminiscent of pickles.
- Taco or Nacho: Infused with taco or nacho cheese flavors, these cheese curds can have a blend of spices like cumin, chili powder, and onion, replicating the taste of Mexican-inspired dishes.
It’s important to note that flavor availability may vary, as they are very much specialty foods. Exploring different flavored cheese curds can be a fun way to experience unique taste combinations and find your personal favorites.
Cheese Curd Recipes
BEER-BATTERED DEEP FRIED CHEESE CURDS
Likely the most popular appetizer in Wisconsin! Here’s how to make them:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup beer (any light beer will work)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 pound cheese curds
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Optional: dipping sauces of your choice
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, dried thyme, and black pepper.
- Add the beer and beaten egg to the dry ingredients. Whisk until the batter is smooth and well combined. Let the batter rest for about 10 minutes.
- In a heavy-bottomed pot or deep fryer, heat vegetable oil to a temperature of 375°F (190°C).
- Place the cheese curds in a separate bowl. Dip each cheese curd into the prepared batter, making sure it is well coated. Allow any excess batter to drip off.
- Carefully drop a few battered cheese curds into the hot oil, being cautious not to overcrowd the pot. Fry them for about 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. You can fry them in batches.
- Once the cheese curds are cooked, use a slotted spoon or spider strainer to transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.
- Repeat the frying process with the remaining cheese curds.
- Serve the beer-battered deep-fried cheese curds while they are still warm. They are best enjoyed immediately after frying. You can serve them with your favorite dipping sauces such as marinara, ranch, or spicy ketchup.
Note: Exercise caution when working with hot oil and frying. Be sure to follow proper safety measures and handle hot oil with care.
Enjoy your delicious beer-battered deep-fried cheese curds! They make for a tasty appetizer or snack for any occasion.
Here are a couple of delicious cheese curd recipes developed by chef Tory Miller of L’Étoile and Graze restaurants in Madison, Wisconsin:
VODKA-BATTERED CHEESE CURDS
Servings: 16 2-ounce curds
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup Spanish smoked paprika, to taste
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 1/2 cups rice flour, divided
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) vodka
- 2 1/2 cups club soda
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 quart peanut oil
- 2 pounds Wisconsin cheese curds
In large bowl, mix all dry ingredients, reserving 1/2 cup rice flour. In another large bowl, mix vodka, club soda and buttermilk; stir into dry ingredients. Add enough additional club soda to make thin, pancake-like batter.
Heat oil in medium saucepan or deep fryer to 350°F. Toss cheese curds in reserved 1/2 cup rice flour. In batches, dip curds in vodka batter. Add to oil one at a time. Do not crowd, frying a few at a time. Fry until batter is browned and crisp and cheese is melted, 30 to 60 seconds. Drain. Serve immediately. The chef serves with a house ranch dip on the side.
You can also use fresh cheese curds in salad recipes like this twist on the classic Waldorf salad (the curds replace the traditional chicken in this version).
WISCONSIN CHEESE APPLE SALAD
Number of Servings: 4
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus additional for apples
- 3/4 cup plain yogurt
- 2 medium tart apples
- 2 ounces (1/2 cup) shredded Wisconsin Swiss cheese, shredded
- 2 ounces (1/2 cup) Wisconsin Cheddar cheese curds
- 1/2 cup sliced celery, sliced
- 1/3 cup seedless green or red grapes, halved
- 1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- Lettuce leaves
In a small mixing bowl stir 1 teaspoon lemon juice into yogurt; cover and chill. Cut apples into thin slices, leaving peel on; sprinkle with additional lemon juice. Toss.
In medium mixing bowl toss together apple slices, Wisconsin Swiss cheese and Wisconsin Cheddar curds, celery, grapes and walnuts. Serve on individual lettuce-lined salad plates; top with spoonfuls of yogurt mixture.