If you've ever stepped foot onto Wisconsin soil, you know that there are very few things residents value more than cheese. The entire state -- from their grocery stores to the "cheeseheads" in the stands of Lambeau Field -- takes great pride in cheese production. There is one cheesy treat that dominates in terms of flavor and serves as an unofficial Wisconsin icon -- cheese curds. These tiny, golden, melt-in-your-mouth wonders are one of the state's delicacies -- but what exactly is a cheese curd?
Good cheese curds are always fresh, have a mild, milky taste, and are most often made from cheddar, although they can be produced from any kind of cheese. They have a squishy texture, and you can tell how fresh the curds are based on the squeaky sound that they produce when you chew on them. The louder the squeak, the more recently they were made.
Cheese curds are actually a byproduct of the cheesemaking process. When cheese is produced, milk is coagulated and heated, which separates the liquid whey from the solid curds. The curds that fall apart before they can be molded into a block or wheel of cheese are the cheese curds.
Cheese curds are often eaten as a snack, but there are many regional dishes they can be served in as well. The best time to consume cheese curds is in the first couple of days after they're produced, when that squeak is still there. You can find fresh curds in many Wisconsin grocery stores and restaurants. Here are some recipes that incorporate cheese curds:
Many restaurants in Wisconsin serve fried cheese curds as a delicious, cheesy appetizer. Fried cheese curds are also a staple of the Wisconsin State Fair, where they are served by multiple vendors. You can eat them plain or dip them in tangy or spicy sauce.
Poutine is a staple Canadian dish that is, essentially, a plate of French fries topped with brown gravy and a hearty helping of cheese. The dish is popular in the northern Wisconsin state as well, which makes cheese curds a popular poutine topping.
Melt curds on pizza. Top your burger with curds. Make a cheese curd caprese. After all, curds are just cheese, so they can be used in many different dishes in varying ways.
If you don't live in Wisconsin, it might be difficult for you to find these cheesy treats outside of the Dairy State. If you're planning a cheese pilgrimage up north, perhaps the best time to get in your taste cheese curds in their freshest form is at the two-day annual Cheese Curd Festival held in Ellsworth, Wisconsin. The festival features over 20 cheese curd dishes, dozens of tasting tents and plenty of beer to compliment the cheesy treat. Cheese curds can also be found in Canada and states neighboring Wisconsin, including Minnesota and Michigan.
But if you can't make it out to Wisconsin or track the cheesy treats down in your own state, you're not out of luck -- with a bit of work, you can make your own cheese curds at home.