Deprived of a consistent intake of fresh cheese curds over the last 30 years, it became recently apparent that a Sunday road trip throughout the Driftless region of Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin-- was in store.
“A cheese curd is a small chunk of cheese often identified as the freshest form of cheddar”, explains Golden Age Cheese.
Baby Boomers can attest to the fact that Sunday drives are a Midwest family tradition. Having something to munch on while driving through the rich agricultural landscape is a necessity. In the Corson family, it was not uncommon to enjoy a bag or two of cheese curds on long Sunday drives.
Finally, a free Sunday for a drive. I headed out on the first of many drives in search of the perfect cheese curd. Heading north from Decorah to Mabel, Minnesota, I stopped at the local convenience store to purchase a bag of cheese curds. Half expecting to see an array of tempting flavors-- (dill, ranch, parmesan, or even sour cream and onion), I was relieved to see a bag of traditional plain white cheddar cheese curds. White curds are what I remember nibbling on as a little girl. Opening the bag, I grabbed the first peanut shaped curd that my fingers touched. Closing my eyes, I slowly took that long awaited bite. Eagerly expecting to hear that familiar squeak between my teeth, I heard-- nothing.
Off I drove headed toward La Crosse, Wisconsin, snacking in silence.
Wisconsin is touted as the cheese capital of the United States. According to Quora.com, it's a cheese curd lovers’ paradise. Wisconsin is where I remember my parents going to buy cheese curds. Not able to find any that caused me to actually flinch from that signature squeak when I bit into them, I made the decision to try for better luck and seek out a restaurant offering homemade fried cheese curds. They were as good as I remembered. Still, there was only a squeak now and then. Maybe I was dreaming? Did cheese curds just not squeak like I remembered?
Throughout my month-long journey, I became intrigued with finding out what really made cheese curds squeak. After a quick internet search, it became clear that an understanding of how curds are made, is the key to finding the largest, freshest, tastiest, and squeakiest curds around.
According to Livestrong.com, “As whey is drained from the vat during the creation of cheddar, cheese curds remain as an end product. Most cheese curds are best within a few days of production.” Now to find fresh curds.
Just down the road from Decorah, is WW Homestead Dairy, self-proclaimed the cheese capital of Iowa. After a tour and lots of questions, I got my answer and more. As it turns out, eating fresh warm curds is the key to resultingly squeaky cheese that can cause one to cringe as if you'd just heard fingernails run down the face of a chalkboard. Caring friends and colleagues suggest briefly warming up cheese curds in the microwave, to force them to squeak as if fresh, but that didn't work for me. No matter. My search is over. I have found the secret to tasty cheese curds. Stop in at Homestead Dairy on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 10:30. This is when you can purchase curds straight out of the vat-- large, warm, tasty, and squeaky.
Step number two in my quest to find the best cheese curds was to find area restaurants that serve fried cheese curds made from Homestead Dairy cheese. I checked out T-Bocks, Good Times, and Luther College in Decorah. At all three places, the fried cheese curds were all made from cheddar from the WW Homestead Dairy and were delicious. Having now experienced deliciously fried local cheese curds, I thought it would be fun to learn how to make them.
After only five minutes of research on the internet, I came across the following recipe on AllRecipes.com.
2 quarts corn oil for frying
¼ cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup beer
½ teaspoon salt
2 lbs. Cheese curds, broken apart
15 minute prep 15-minute cook | Ready in 30 minutes
1. Heat corn oil in a deep-fryer or large saucepan to 375 degrees F (190 degree C)
2. Whisk together milk, flour, beer, salt, and eggs to form a smooth, rather thin batter.
3. Place cheese curds, about six to eight at a time into the batter, stir to coat, and remove with wire strainer.
4. Shake curds to remove excess batter.
5. Deep fry until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Drain on paper towels.
7. Serve hot with Ranch dressing.
Conducting the research for this project produced an unexpected result. When I set out on this adventure initially, it was to find the best tasting cheese curds in the Driftless region. The journey turned out to be much more informative than imaged. CheeseUndergroundBlogspot.com offers the following advice and facts:
“Only buy cheese curds if they are fresh - anything over a day old isn't the same.”
“High in fat but also high in taste.”
“Squeaky fresh and fun to eat.”
“Traditionally cheese curds were the leftover bonus from a batch of cheddar but cheesemakers brought it home for their children to eat.”
110 calories in 1 serving | 1 serving is equal to a half a cup or 1 ounce
Knowing the number of calories in a serving and how many servings a person can eat in one sitting, I realized that physical exertion is a requirement after enjoying cheese curds. According to CalorieKing.com, it takes 31 minutes of walking or 30 minutes a jogging or 9 minutes of swimming or 17 minutes of cycling to burn 110 calories.
Time for a handful of curds.