The Best Cheese You’ve Never Heard Of (Hint: It Squeaks)
These milky cheese bits have long been a favorite in the Midwest, but they are gaining popularity everywhere. What are cheese curds? We'll fill you in.
Photo: Shutterstock/Brent Hofacker
When it comes to cheese, everyone knows about blocks, wheels and wedges—all of which make excellent additions to party cheese boards. But what about less common forms of cheese—like curds? You may be most familiar with the fried variety, but a fresh cheese curd is a thing of beauty. As any Wisconsinite can tell you, a cheese curd that squeaks (a sign of freshness) is the ultimate dairlyland snack. Find out why you should get your hands on some ASAP.
What are cheese curds, anyway?
Before we start in on what makes this cheese so delightful, let’s dive into what a curd is exactly. Cheese curds are a product of the process used for many popular cheeses, including cheddar. When milk is aged to become cheese, it separates into whey (a liquid protein) and curds (a solid). Cottage cheese, harvested early on in the process, is a mixture of both.
Curds are compressed and aged to make many of the cheeses we know and love. However, you can also eat curds—which look like soft little wrinkly bits of cheese—before they get shaped into those familiar blocks and wheels. They tend to have a lighter, fresher taste than the cheese they’d otherwise eventually become, and they make a wonderful squeak when you bite into them. (That famous squeaking is caused by the developing protein chains rubbing against the enamel on your teeth!)
What’s all the hype about?
While cheese curds are nothing new to folks in Wisconsin, where they’re an extremely popular snack, they are gaining traction nationwide. Like I said, curds are great for snacking. Bite-sized and easy to include in lunch boxes or on party platters (or just grab out of the fridge), curds are a great stand-alone munchie. Cheese curds, like other cheeses, come in many different flavors and oftentimes contain added spices (think ranch, dill and tomato-basil), but mild cheddar flavor is the most common.
These cheese nuggets are also recipe-friendly. They can be tossed into a variety of salads, stirred into side dishes and casseroles and be used as garnishes, like in this Midwestern-style Bloody Mary. Indeed, several notable dishes feature curds. In Wisconsin, it’s common to bread and deep-fry cheese curds for a rich, delicious appetizer. In Canada, curds are crucial to a good poutine.
OK, where can I get them?
Since the best cheese curds are fresh cheese curds, the best place to find them is nearby. Check out local farmers markets, organic food stores and dairies for the best (and squeakiest!) curds. However, if you don’t have a local cheesemaker, you can always order them online. Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Cheese Mart sells traditional curds in small and family-sized bags (that’s 15 pounds of curds!). For those looking to take it to the next level, Renard’s Cheese in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, offers 16 different varieties including Cajun, taco and chili lime.
Trust me, once you get your hands on these squeaky-good snacks, you’re going to want a regular supply.