Hometown Hungers: Best Fried Cheese Curds Outside of Wisconsin
As a state crowded with more cheese factories than anywhere else in the country, Wisconsin churns out a particularly indulgent delicacy that attracts devotees in droves: cheese curds. The byproduct of cheese making, curds are little nibs of ultra-fresh cheese that have yet to be aged. They are mild in flavor and a touch salty, and have a distinctive squeak to them when they’re first created. Regional cooks amped up the snack’s decadence factor decades ago by dipping the curds in beer batter and plunging them into bubbling oil to create a fried version of the cheese curd that has caught on beyond the dairy-driven state. Here are 10 places putting their own twist on the glorious nuggets.
Bangers Sausage Shop and Beer Garden, Austin
This lively Austin beer garden offers a dazzling array of suds and sausages, but the fried cheese curds are not to be missed. The team behind Bangers serves a slightly tweaked version of Wisconsin’s signature dish by pulling in curds sourced right in Texas. Supplied by Mill-King Market & Creamery in McGregor, these curds have a taste similar to that of mozzarella. To make the snack, the curds are rolled in panko breadcrumbs and deep-fried. They’re paired with a hearty dipping sauce whose tomato base is studded with housemade bratwurst and chopped aromatics.
Photo courtesy of Bangers Sausage Shop and Beer Garden
Dunedin Brewery, Dunedin, Fla.
One of Florida’s oldest craft breweries serves two versions of Wisconsin fried cheese curds: one that sticks close to the classic recipe by using standard white cheddar curds and another that punches up the dish by pulling in jalapeno cheese curds. Both options are lightly fried (just enough to create a crisp outer shell and a gooey middle), then served with a side of ranch dressing.
Photo courtesy of Dunedin Brewery
Go to: Dunedin Brewery
Le Farfalle, Charleston, S.C.
Italian fare takes center stage at this restaurant opened by Chef Michael Toscano of La Perla fame, so it seems only natural that the traditional fried curds he’s turning out at Le Farfalle have a slight twist courtesy of the old country. He starts with cheddar curds sourced straight from Wisconsin — Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, to be exact — and then coats them with housemade focaccia breadcrumbs. Once fried, the cheesy golden nuggets are dusted with Pecorino Romano and black pepper, then served with San Marzano tomato marinara for dipping.
Photo courtesy of Le Farfalle
Go to: Le Farfalle
Red Cow, Minneapolis
This contemporary tavern takes the business of cheese curds very seriously, as do many Minnesota spots because of their proximity to neighboring Wisconsin. Red Cow sticks close to the classic recipe when it comes to the batter, opting to coat the curds in a beer-laced mixture before frying them. To offset the richness of the nuggets, the kitchen has created a triple-berry ketchup that’s served on the side. The recipe brings together pureed blackberries, raspberries and strawberries with a tiny amount of ketchup to provide a nice acidic balance to the creamy curds. The thought was to have a sweet accompaniment, similar to jam on a cheese plate.
Photo courtesy of Red Cow
Go to: Red Cow
Railcar Modern American Kitchen, Omaha
For Chef Jared Clarke, the cheese curds he’s turning out at Railcar Modern American Kitchen represent a taste of home (he was born and raised in Wisconsin), but with his own twist. The cheese curds are a New York cheddar and come from a local farm, Jisa Dairy in Brainard, Nebr. The breading process is twofold: Clarke starts with a traditional batter, but then rolls the coated curds in a garlic butter-and-pretzel-crumb crust before frying them. The resulting curd is garlicky, salty and gooey. This decadent riff is served with a side of chipotle bourbon mustard.
Photo courtesy of Railcar Modern American Kitchen
Murray’s Cheese Bar, New York
A go-to spot for fromage-obsessed New Yorkers, Murray’s has been selling cheese since it first opened as a butter-and-egg shop in 1940. The operation has expanded through the years and now encompasses multiple outposts, including this cozy restaurant where cheesecentric dishes dominate the menu. Though the offerings change with the seasons, it’s common to spot cheese curds as an option. The kitchen fries up curds from Wisconsin’s Kaufhold’s and tosses them in Buffalo sauce to add a little kick. Murray’s ups the cheesy ante by serving the fried curds with a Black River blue cheese dip.
Photo courtesy of Murray's Cheese Bar
Go to: Murray’s Cheese Bar
El Bait Shop, Des Moines
Billed as having the largest selection of American microbrews in the world, El Bait Shop doesn’t skimp on the snacks either. Fried items are a mainstay on the food menu, which features onion rings, fried pickles, bacon-wrapped Tater Tots and even fried chicken gizzards as appetizers. Among the many fried options, the fried cheese curds are a sure bet. El Bait Shop keeps it classic by simply battering the Wisconsin cheese curds, frying them and then pairing the indulgent snack with a side of ranch or marinara.
Photo courtesy of El Bait Shop
Go to: El Bait Shop
Tipsy Cow, Los Angeles
This burger joint serves a slew of comforting nibbles that go beyond the beef patties (and craft beers), with the fried cheese curds being one such menu mainstay. These golden morsels are served in a style similar to another wondrously cheesy snack: fried mozzarella sticks. The crunchy coating of each fried curd comes dusted with a sprinkling of Parmesan and a flurry of basil, and the curds are served with a smoked marinara sauce to boot.
Photo courtesy of Tipsy Cow
Go to: Tipsy Cow
Links Taproom, Chicago
The focus at this Chicago taproom is beer and homemade sausages, but the cheese curds are certainly no afterthought. These cheesy nuggets channel the flavors of Wisconsin, thanks to ingredients imported from the Dairy State. They’re composed of Wisconsin white cheddar cheese curds, which are lightly tossed in cornstarch and coated in a beer batter made with a Belgian-style amber ale from 3 Sheeps Brewing Company in Sheboygan, Wis. The deep-fried curds are served alongside a choice of 16 dips in flavors such as Jalapeno Ranch and Beerinara, a marinara made with a bourbon-barrel-aged stout. Opt for the Curds of a Feather and you’ll get an ultra-rich riff that brings the classic dish together with duck confit, fried rosemary and truffle mayonnaise.
Photo courtesy of Links Taproom
Go to: Links Taproom
Olive + Oak, St. Louis
This spot on the outskirts of St. Louis lures in the locals with its understated elegance and ever-changing menu of refined American fare. Many of the recipes rely on regional ingredients, but one delicious exception is the restaurant’s slightly elevated take on cheese curds. The culinary minds behind Olive + Oak looked to neighboring Illinois for the dish’s starring ingredient: curds, of course. Executive Chef Jesse Mendica and her team use curds from Marcoot Jersey Creamery in Greenville, Ill., to make the fried snack. The nibs are coated in a light tempura-like batter, fried and then flanked by a side of charred scallion aioli.
Photo courtesy of Olive + Oak
Go to: Olive + Oak