The definition of a cheese curd depends upon who is giving it. Someone with a culinary background will explain that curds are a by-product of cheese making that can be incorporated into a number of dishes or served on their own. Someone from Wisconsin, however, will explain that cheese curds are a deep-fried delicacy especially popular at football games and festivals. Both will agree that the best cheese curds are the freshest because curds lose their unique texture and taste within a matter of hours.
The best curds are made in regions with a number of cheese factories and can be found at festivals, sporting events, and bars that take pride in offering the best of the best. There’s no point in seeking them in chain restaurants that are dedicated to quality control and efficiency. They are embedded in the culture of cheese-making regions and are largely more appreciated and celebrated by the common man.
In parts of the world where cheese making occurs, curds are better known. They don’t travel well, so exporting them to other regions isn’t very practical. Curds can be slightly sour, slightly sweet, or both. All types of cheeses produce curds, but in Wisconsin, it’s cheddar that is the most popular, followed by Colby and mozzarella.
Deep-fried Wisconsin cheese curds are not to be confused with the ubiquitous fried or baked cheese appetizers available on menus across the country. Such appetizers aren’t made with cheese curds but with sliced or rolled bits of the cheese itself. One difference is that the texture of curds is more elastic, even spongy. Due to their permeable composition, the air captured inside literally squeaks as they are being nibbled, a delightful attribute that makes Wisconsin cheese heads proud.
French Canadians have their own version of curds called poutine. Poutine is a heart-stopping platter of French-fried potatoes drenched with melted cheese curds. As if that wasn’t enough, rich, brown gravy is drizzled over the top.
Not all versions of cheese curd regional treats require deep frying. Some cooks offer them dressed only in a little sauce. Others skewer the curds with pepperoni or other sausage, bacon or ham, or olives. Vegetarian versions cuddle the curds with fried tempeh and grape tomatoes.
The fresher the curds are, the better they taste, and a dusting of herbs and spices are all the freshest curds really need. Cheddar-based cheese curds love a little fresh dill. Hot sauce, garlic, and herbal blends are also popular ways to dress them.