As far back as I can remember, I’ve eaten cheese curds. Fried, fresh, or as a topper for things like poutine, cheese curds have been a part of life.
Since I’m originally from Wisconsin, it should be no surprise that I’ve eaten my fair share of Wisconsin cheese curds–one of the Dairy State’s beloved exports. In layperson’s terms, I love cheese curds.
I honestly love cheese curd a little too much in all its forms. But your palate will be forever changed if you’ve never had these squeaky little delights of salty goodness. Once you bite into one of these curdled delicacies, you’ll be a curd convert.
Fried cheese curds, in particular, are a delicious staple snack throughout several communities, especially in Quebec, the Northeast, and the Midwestern United States. These fried cheese beauts are flash-frozen and sold in many stores but, like French fries, don’t compare. If you want the best fried curds I’ve ever had, I highly recommend a trip to the Old Fashioned in Madison, Wisconsin.
Read on if you’re prepared for what amounts to a love letter to cheese curds.
What We Cover
- What are Cheese Curds?
- What Do Cheese Curds Taste Like?
- Types of Cheese Curds
- Can You Buy Cheese Curds?
- How to Make Fried Cheese Curds
- Deep-Fried Cheese Curds Recipe
- Dipping Sauces for Fried Cheese Curds
- Cheese Curds Around the World
- Final Thoughts: Are Cheese Curds Good?
- What are cheese curds?
- How are cheese curds made?
- What is the best way to eat cheese curds?
- Can you buy cheese curds?
What are Cheese Curds?
A cheese curd is a solid mass of lactic acid starter culture dairy solids and water (curds and whey) shaped into a small, rough ball. Historically, curds were a by-product of making cheese.
These days, most cheese curds are produced intentionally with rennet, a microbial enzyme commonly used in cheesemaking. Rennet makes shorter, tougher curds that are easier to handle and less likely to break during manufacturing.
Cheese curds are often used in savory dishes, with a mild flavor and a springy or rubbery texture. They can be eaten on their own as a snack, appetizer cuisine, or used as an ingredient in recipes like my beloved Canadian poutine. You could also try curds and other Wisconsin specialties on a food tour in Milwaukee.
What Do Cheese Curds Taste Like?
Cheese. Why? Because it’s cheese.
Oh, alright. Cheese curds taste mildly salty and creamy. They’re normally made with white or orange cheddar cheese. Curds have the same firmness, flavor, and consistency as their parent cheese (e.g., a sharp cheddar).
Fresh cheese curds are also very common to be flavored and seasoned, with all flavors and combos available. Battered and deep-fried cheese curds are like elevated mozzarella sticks, with more flavor to the cheese and additional flavors in the batter (e.g., beer batter).
You’ll know whether the curds are fresh based on their sound when you bite them. That’s right, fresh cheese curds squeak! Honestly, even non-squeaky curds are delicious to me. But it’s fun to sound like a mouse when eating them.
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Types of Cheese Curds
There are many different types of cheese curds, and the type you choose will depend on your taste preferences. Some of the most popular types of curds include:
- Cheddar Cheese Curds: Cheddar cheese curds are the most popular type in the U.S. Flavor and color differ, with orange cheddars typically having a sharp, tangy flavor that pairs well with savory dishes. White cheddar cheese curds tend to have a milder flavor by comparison. They pair well with fruits and vegetables or can be used in sweet dishes.
- Naked Deep-Fried Cheese Curds: These fried cheese curds are not breaded or battered and are usually served with a dipping sauce. Although halloumi is starting to make itself known here, you aren’t super likely to find these in U.S. restaurants; the only time I’ve had naked fried cheese was halloumi fries in the U.K.
- Battered Deep-Fried Cheese Curds: These fried curds are breaded or battered cheese curds before they are deep-fried and are typically fried to a golden brown. Many restaurants, particularly in the Midwest, will serve either one kind of fried cheddar curds or a mix of regular and white.
- Breaded Cheese Curds: The poor man’s battered cheese curd. While for many, it is a preference, breaded curds are a little cheaper and less bold in flavor or texture than battered ones. You’ll typically find these crunchy treats in Midwestern fast food chains (like Culvers).
- Flavored Cheese Curds: Naked curds, dressed and seasoned, come in all shapes and sizes. Curry flavor? Yup. Garlic? You betcha. Taco seasoning? You better believe it! Sweet, savory, salty, or sour, the sky is the limit!
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Can You Buy Cheese Curds?
Yes, absolutely. Hearty, real cheese curds are available in stores, including local grocery stores, specialty food stores, cheese shops, dairies, and online retailers.
If you’re looking for the freshest cheese possible, your best bet is to find a local source. You may be able to find a few curds being sold at your local farmers’ market, as well as farm or dairy shops.
For fresh curds, the easiest way to find them in the U.S. is at any gas station in rural Wisconsin. Seriously, they’re everywhere. In Canada, you can find them in essentially every grocery store.
If you want freshly made deep-fried cheese curds, go to Minnesota or Wisconsin, where you will find them at nearly every dive bar or regional fast food spot – even fancy gastro pubs will serve them with yummy dips! Midwesterners have that cheese curd recipe locked down, believe me.
Here are some of my favorite fried curds:
- Culver’s (if you love breaded fried cheese curds, you know this place)
- Dairy Queen (not gonna lie; I think these are better than Culver’s)
- Great Dane in Madison
- The Nook in St. Paul
- Ellsworth Creamery in Wisconsin or via their Amazon shop
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How to Make Fried Cheese Curds
If you’ve ever made croquettes, the principle to fry cheese curds is essentially the same: you take your food, the cheese curds, dip them in a strong batter and then fry it up to a golden brown. For typical fried cheese curds, you’ll find a batter with a similar texture to the generic frozen cheese stick you’d find in the grocery store.
Those aren’t the good ones, though. You’ve got to make your own because there’s no other way to replicate the extreme gooey goodness of a proper fried cheese curd.
The other part of the equation is that you must use fresh curds, which are best for frying. They are the ones that come straight from the cheese factory or maker and are only a few hours old.
You can tell if you’ve got a new batch of curds by the squeaky cheese test: if the cheese curds squeak on your teeth as you eat them, you can fry them. If they don’t, you’ve got a bunch of snacking cheese.
Deep-Fried Cheese Curds Recipe
For those who can make freshly deep-fried cheese curds at home, failure comes not from the ability to get great curds to fry but from a lousy batter mixture. Cheese curds need to have a light batter coating on them so that there’s just enough crunch when you bite into it, yet not too much batter where that’s all you taste.
There’s one foundational difference between other fried foods and curds, however: instead of using carbonated water, you will use beer to make the batter lighter and fluffier – 3/4 of a cup, to be exact. Beer-battered cheese curds are practically their food group in the Midwest. I wouldn’t say I like beer (I love it), and I love a good beer curd.
Use a local microbrew for added flair, customization, or bragging rights. I prefer Spotted Cow if I have any in the house when I make these at home. Spotted Cow is from one of the best breweries in Wisconsin and can only be purchased in-state – but once in Wisconsin, you can find it everywhere.
- 2 quarts vegetable oil
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup beer
- ¼ cup milk
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 pounds cheese curds
- Wire strainer
- Paper towels
- Mix together the eggs, flour, beer, salt, and milk. Stir until the batter is smooth and thin.
- Heat oil in a pan to 375 degrees F
- Dip cheese curds in batter and place into hot oil for just a few minutes, until golden brown
- Remove curds with the wire strainer and set them on paper towels to absorb extra oil
Remember that the hot oil must be at the right temperature because the batter will cook too fast, and you’ll have a solid core inside. If this does happen, just put the oven at 200 degrees F and stick the cheese curds in on a baking sheet for a few minutes.
Let them cool down for a minute, but not too long to avoid injury. You’ve got to eat these while they’re hot!
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Dipping Sauces for Fried Cheese Curds
Some people would consider including a dipping sauce in your cheese curds recipe a crime. I am one of those people with a few exceptions. You should try the curds, especially beer-battered cheese curds, without sauce first to savor their unmasked flavors.
It depends on how fresh your curds are, what type of cheese you use, what type of beer batter, and if you use garlic salt, garlic powder, or even cayenne pepper. You might want dipping sauces on the side if you serve generic fried or frozen curds as an appetizer.
The two most popular dips are ranch dressing and marinara sauce, but you can dip them in anything. I’ve tried ketchup, mayo, queso, honey mustard, BBQ sauce, Thai sweet chili dip, spicy jerk sauce, and even chocolate sauce. The possibilities are endless!
For example, if you’ve got an older curd that has become solid on the inside, take your standard tartar sauce, add some dill, and have a fantastic and flavorful addition. Even a fresh tzatziki sauce will compliment your crispy fried cheese curds beautifully.
My personal favorite dip to use, if I’m going to use one, is garlic aioli because it brings out the flavor and creaminess of the cheese.
See Related: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin: What’s the Difference?
Cheese Curds Around the World
Regardless of how they look, there are a variety of cheese-curd-esque treats all over the world from my beloved poutine, as mentioned above in Quebec, to zesty halloumi.
What originated as a street food in Quebec has become a staple of pub foods throughout North America. The different flavors of French fries (or tater tots in some cases), British beef gravy, and Canadian curds are brought together in a gorgeous amalgamation of savory goodness. Poutine is starting to make its way around the world, and many regional variants can be found for this tasty snack!
Made from a combination of goat and sheep’s milk, halloumi comes from Cyprus. The only place I’ve eaten it was the U.K., in halloumi fry form. You’ll also see it on top of salads. Like curds, halloumi also squeaks and is beyond delicious.
Because of its high melting point, halloumi is often grilled or baked on a wire rack and used as a meat substitute. Halloumi burgers are extremely popular in the U.K., rolling all the best bits of grilled cheese and satisfying hamburgers.
Halloumi fries are another popular fast food snack in the U.K., coming grilled and seasoned, and is what I imagine the offspring of a fresh curd and a battered curd would be like. They’re dynamite.
Paneer is a cottage cheese from India made from full-fat cow or buffalo milk. Unlike the other cheeses we’ve mentioned, this one does not have salt in it. So, rather than having a salty, tangy taste, paneer is milder and milkier, and in terms of texture and flavor, it is very similar to tofu.
It is also highly versatile across recipes since it has no melting point and doesn’t add a significant flavor to the dish. You’ll find it in many Indian curry houses in the U.K. and North America.
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Final Thoughts: Are Cheese Curds Good?
I’m the wrong person to ask this question to. Cheese curds aren’t just good; they’re the best. I love them. These gooey bits of baby cheese will forever be my favorite comfort food.
The one health-related issue with fried cheese curds is their saturated fat content. Any fried cheese curds recipe, including the one we shared above, will have 40g of fat or more per typical serving, and considering it’s easy enough to eat two or three servings at a time–there’s no getting around the fact that the best cheeses to fry have a high-fat content.
You can use vegetable oil and low-fat cheese to halve the fat content in your cheese curd recipe, but the flavor isn’t the same. You could also use a light beer in the cheese curd batter, but I can hear the curd fanatics bemoaning the thought. Don’t get me wrong–it’s ok, but it’s not life-changing!
Are cheese curds good? The answer to this question is a resounding “yes!” Fried cheese curds are delicious and perfect as an appetizer or side dish. They’re also easy to make, so you can enjoy them at home anytime.
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What are cheese curds?
Cheese curds are small, bite-sized pieces of fresh cheese. They are often described as similar in taste and texture to squeaky cheese. They are a popular snack food in many parts of the world, including the United States, Canada, and now the United Kingdom.
How are cheese curds made?
Cheese curds are made by separating the solid particles (curds) from the liquid (whey) in milk. This process is accomplished through a variety of recipes. Still, the most common method involves adding an acidic substance (such as vinegar or lemon juice) to milk, which causes the curds to separate from the whey. The curds are then collected and formed into small, bite-sized pieces.
What is the best way to eat cheese curds?
There is no wrong answer to this question! Cheese curds can be eaten plain or breaded or coated in beer batter and fried. They can also be used in various recipes, such as macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Can you buy cheese curds?
Yeah! If you want cheese curds, you can usually get them at a local grocery store. The food is often in the deli area’s fresh mozzarella and other unique cheese.