As a long-time Wisconsinite, there is a deep pleasure to be gleaned from introducing the uninitiated to the cheesehead staple: the humble cheese curd. It is my belief that besides butter, cheese curds offer the fastest and most pleasant route to angioplasty. Under their influence, you will roll over, like a dog dreaming deeply of belly-scratch pleasure…and submit with a smile to whatever medical procedure is necessary to extract their remains from your arteries, knowing it was worth it, for even one salty, toothsome bite.
I don’t eat them often, but when I do, I like my cheese curds at room temperature, and squeaky.
It’s hard to explain the concept of “squeaky” to a newbie. When a curd is at its freshest, it exhibits a rather pleasant and addictive catch on the tooth, with a soft whisper of a promise that you and you only can hear. The squeak.
To introduce RBG2, my summer companion, to this regional wonder, I purchased fresh, white cheddar Westby cheese curds made in Westby, Wisconsin. (http://www.westbycreamery.com/) Westby curds were one of many options contributed via the Rollerbag Goddess Facebook page, and a brand that is widely loved in these parts. Lest you think for a moment that choosing cheese curds is less than serious work, know that grocery stores here post the delivery dates of their curds, and one member of my family stops religiously at a roadside shop on her way to and from La Crosse for what she considers to be the best cheese curds in the area, at Pine Cheese Mart in Pine Island, Minnesota. (http://www.pinecheesemart.com/)
The evolution of the curd, of course, called for batter and deep-frying. Nearly every restaurant in the Coulee Region serves the deep-fried version, either in classic cheddar flavor or white cheddar. And sometimes you can even find pepper jack cheese bites, which, while not curds in the traditional sense, measure up well against their traditionalist cousins.
It’s unfathomable that this delicacy is unknown to most people outside of the Upper Midwest. Around these parts, Rocky’s Supper Club in Stoddard, Wis. gets the popularity vote. But I’ve had excellent deep-fried curds at dirty dive bars and classy joints alike. The key: the curds must be natural (not pre-formed), ideally hand-dipped, and fried to a delicious, golden brown until just before they burst with happiness. If one or two gooze out in the basket, leaving a tender pool of congealed cheese, all the better.
The Westby curds offered a great introduction to the curd-world to my friend, a first-time visitor to the Midwest. They were allowed to “breathe,” to sweat a light, milky substance on to the plate as they awaited her first taste.
It’s no surprise, she loved them.
What is your favorite brand of fresh cheese curds? Which restaurant, bar or food stand offers the best deep-fried cheese curds, in your opinion?
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Charish Badzinski is an explorer, food-lover and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb