Hometown Hungers: Wisconsin Fried Cheese Curds
Living in the Dairy State does have its advantages. Not only do Wisconsin farms and factories churn out more cheese than any other state in the nation — over 3 billion pounds of it in 2015 alone — but they also produce a regional delicacy that the denizens are known to devour at an astonishing speed: cheese curds.
This springy, salty snack is actually a product of the cheese-making process itself. Often described as cheese in its youngest form, curds are a solid tangle of milk proteins that are pressed together and then aged to create cheddar, Colby and other formidable blocks of fromage. These peanut-sized morsels are mild in flavor and have a distinctive squeak to them that denotes their freshness.
Curds have existed for thousands of years, but they became a beloved addition to Wisconsin’s culinary canon when Europeans immigrated here in the mid-1800s and brought their cheese-making ways with them. At some point in the decades since, clever cooks began coating the curds in batter (typically laced with beer) and plunging them into sizzling oil to create wondrously golden nuggets that sing with salty, cheesy flavors. The curds are traditionally paired with dipping sauces, and creamy ranch is the classic favorite.
So craveworthy are these fried cheese curds that they have burst beyond Wisconsin’s boundaries, with restaurants across the country offering riffs that stick close to the classic recipe. Check out Food Network’s gallery to find out where to score them.