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Cheese curds?

I just read a thread on the Southwest board about where one might find authentic cheese curds in the Phoenix area. What are these, and what do you do with them? I gather that they are some sort of fresh cheese that is commonly found in Wisconsin, and can come in white or yellow, so it sounds as if they are different from cottage cheese, farmer's cheese, ricotta, etc.

Sarah C

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  1. My understanding is that cheese curds are fresh, young cheddar cheese in the natural, random shape and form before being processed into blocks and aged.

    The farm I once bought them from told me they are only good fresh, which means that even if you can find them in ordinary supermarkets, they are probably a few weeks old, and inedible or at least unremarkable.

    In Montreal they serve them with crisp french fries and a brown gravy, called Poutine.

    I've only deep fried them in a batter before, and they were heart stopping good.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Infomaniac

      If they 'squeak' against your teeth when you eat them, they're fresh. Sounds weird, but you'll know it when you feel it! I'd agree that they're really only worth it if they're fresh.

      1. re: PaulV

        Yep, they have to squeak to be fresh. I can't stand that sound, so I don't eat them. My DH loves them, but says once the squeak is gone, so are they!

        1. re: PaulV

          oh god...squeaky cheese curds in poutine is one of my favorite things on earth. Old chese curds are gross--you'll know right away if they're old.

          I've seen them breaded and deep fried as well--there's a place in Mall of America that offers it.

      2. Have never seen them outside my native Wisconsin (though am glad to know they're found in Montreal!). They are usually a mild cheddar and their random shapes are maybe best compared to irregular packing peanuts--or fat, stumpy Cheetos. The white vs. yellow color is just a matter of whether dye was used, I think. Sometimes they're gussied up and cheesemongers will include dill, garlic, and other flavorings to the basic curd.

        As far as I know, they're eaten as is, just popped into the mouth. Or with a toothpick, if using as an hors d'oeuvre! They can be deep fried, as Infomaniac observed, and then they join the mozzarella stick family. I'd love to know if they're used in dishes--but I've never, ever, heard of this and I grew up with them.

        Yes, freshness is quite important. Don't know how fresh one can find in Phoenix, unless there's a transplant from the Upper Midwest practicing dairy agriculture on the mesas. . . good luck!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Hot Dish

          As mentioned above, they're common in Quebec and part of the holy trinity of poutine ingredients. Besides featuring artisanal curds in his (in)famous foie gras poutine, Au Pied du Cochon's chef Martin Picard also incorporates them into mashed potatoes; I suspect they're chopped and added at the last minute, as they retain a bit of their elastic indentity.

        2. They're available in Tillamook Oregon, gratis, on the factory tour. Yes, you can also purchase them for picnics.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Sherri

            This was my first exposure to them, as a very little girl. I ate a ton, so much that I got scolded for it. I visited a few years ago and the dairy seemed so much smaller. I did buy up a few packages for the road -- I still felt guilty about my curd-hogging as a toddler. But a lifetime fan of Tillamook cheeses as a result of that tour thirty years ago.

            1. re: Sherri

              We had those too a few months ago. I thought they were ok, but the BF would have eaten them with a shovel.

              Who would have thought that a cheese factory in the middle of no place would draw such huge crowds?

            2. in Quebec they call them "crottes de fromage" The name alone is enough to keep me away. (though they're not quite as squeaky when they get melty in the poutine sauce)

              10 Replies
              1. re: amandine

                Hate to correct you, but in Quebec they call it "fromage en crottes".

                "Crottes de fromage" are cheesies or cheese puffs.

                1. re: SnackHappy

                  ummm... the term "crottes de fromage" seems in my experience to lead to some confusion as it is applied equally to both cheese curds and cheesies, although often upon clarification people will say: "Oh... you mean fromage en grains, not crottes de fromages". "fromage en grains" is to my ears used much more frequently than "fromage en crottes".
                  On a seperate note, and a bit off topic, would anyone care to specualte on the relation between "disco fries" and "poutine"? (I've never had the former)

                  1. re: mbe

                    Disco fries are French fries with melted cheese (often Cheez Whiz, sadly, but sometimes American, provolone or cheddar) and brown gravy.

                    Poutine is French fries with the aforementioned cheese curds and veloûté, which is a reduced chicken gravy. (Of course, 90% of the poutine in Québec is made with St.-Hubert poutine sauce out of a can or packet, so grain of salt, etc.)

                    I also know it as "fromage en grains" -- "crottes de fromage" are the little baked things. And it could be worse -- "crottins" (the usual shape of fresh goat cheese) literally means "droppings" or, in that case, "goat pies".

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      As long as we're being nitpicky. The sauce used at most poutine places is Berthelet poutine sauce mix. The confusion about St-Hubert might come from the fact that Berthelet also makes St-Hubert branded sauces that are sold at supermarkets.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        Speaking of the gravy... do you guys call it "sauce barbecue"? that's what my fam calls it out there.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          >>Speaking of the gravy... do you guys call it "sauce barbecue"? that's what my fam calls it out there.<<
                          You hear "sauce barbecue" sometimes. It's not the red, sweet and smoky stuff sold in bottles but a brown, mildly spiced chicken vélouté sauce that's served in cups in local restaurants, most notably St-Hubert BBQ, for dunking "barbecue" chicken (Quebec-speak for rotisserie chicken) and fries in. It used to be the only prepared sauce available for making poutine at home, though the dish's popularity eventually led to the development and marketing of poutine-specific sauces.

                          1. re: Das Ubergeek

                            "Sauce barbecue" is a better version of what Americans call "chicken gravy"... it's not exactly poutine sauce, but it'll do in a pinch.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              Disco fries .... dude, I freaking love it. Have to be wearing a Nik-Nik shirt to eat 'em, right?

                          2. re: SnackHappy

                            I think you might be right... my mom's the native speaker, not me. :) Either way, it's the "crottes" part that sounds horrible. I much prefer "fromage en grains"

                          3. re: amandine

                            Fromage en crottes or fromage en grains = cheese curds (fresh cheddar). Some people will call it "fromage qui fait squish squish" ;-)

                            Crottes au fromage = Cheetos and the likes....

                          4. I've had them a couple times when I was staying on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan years ago. They were called "Squeaky Cheese" when we bought them there. I don't know where you would find them around here though.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Vexorg

                              In Arizona, your closest substutute might be the squeakiest Mexican style fresh cheese (queso blanco?).
                              paulj

                            2. Ok, so maybe you can't buy them fresh in Phoenix, but you can order them online from the Westby (WI) Cooperative. I can personally vouch for their deliciousness but I had them in Westby. Never had or even seen them in LA, where I live.

                              www.westbycreamery.net

                              1. If you're the cooking type, you can make them yourself. Everything you need is at www.cheesemaking.com

                                1. They are also very popular in upstate New York. The best place to get them, as with Minnesota and Wisconsin, is at the farmer's markets or at the cheese factories.

                                  One regional distinction about upstate New York is a hot pepper version. Yummy.

                                  And they absolutely MUST squeak!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Loren3

                                    Yeah you can find the best homemade cheese curds @ the farmers markets in central new york.. i agree that fresh is best, the store baught ones are not bad if u like mild cheddar cheese since that is what they taste like.. also they wash the cheese so it doesnt have the same saltiness of the fresh ones and since they are not fresh.. no squeek and definately not the same texture. cheese curds can be used pretty much the same as any cheese is used but i prefer to eat them all by themselves.

                                  2. deep fried cheese curds @ Culvers.... mmmmm..

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. YES! At last- people who share a passion for cheese curds AKA squeeky cheese! My meal of choice when i visit Northern and Central WI.... Fried Cheese Curds!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: cheesehead in recovery

                                        You can't beat deep fried cheese curds and a Butter Burger. We put a curd on a Ritz cracker and melt for 10 seconds... heaven!
                                        There are a ton of cheese shops in southern Wisconsin that will ship anywhere in the country. Bucky Badger, Shullsburg, and Westby all make great curds.

                                      2. I can find curds at some of the farmers markets here in Northern Virginia. The only other place I've seen them was in the Wisconsin Farm store at the Mall of America years ago. I love to satisfy a guilty pleasure by baking some Ore-Ida "fast-food" style fries, making a decent brown gravy, poured over the fries and curds, and, voila....home-grown Poutine!

                                        1. My local Trader Joe's has them in 10 oz. cartons. They don't squeak and taste just like cheddar.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Sharuf

                                            those are old. may as well buy regular cheddar. ideally you pick up a fresh-that-day sack from the cheese factory and eat them squeaking. the cheese factory is generally in a little town in wisconsin, they sure don't call folks from wisconsin cheeseheads for nothing. if they are starting to get old you can save them by breading and deep frying. i've heard that you can also microwave curds that are losing their squeak for a brief time, and thereby restore the squeak.
                                            i. . . have never had the opportunity to try saving curds this way. i'm a great believer in same-day/next-day curd eatin.'

                                          2. As others mentioned they do need to be fresh to be any good. In South Dakota we have at least one cheese maker that does cheese curds. http://www.dimockdairy.com/

                                            A dairy farmer acquaintance picked some up fresh from the cheese coop after delivering his milk and brought them to a get together. We can get them almost that fresh if you pick them up at one of the local stores on the right day. You can tell they are getting stale if there is lots of liquid whey roaming around in the package.

                                            There is also a Mobil station at the Baraboo exit in Wisconsin Dells that carries really good local curds that are usually fresh. We always stop there and pick up a bag of curds and Sprecher or Point root beer.

                                            1. Seconding what everyone else said about them needing to be fresh to be good. I've been known to drive to Wisconsin (from Chicago, not too far) when the craving strikes; totally worth the trip!

                                              Anyway, I never encountered them when I lived in California, but they're fairly easy to get at Farmer's Markets around here. I always just eat them straight out of the bag. I guess you could put them on a plate and stab them with toothpicks, if you're classy like that.

                                              1. I hale from Wisconsin originally, so on some level I know of what I speak, though I've been away for the better part of my life. As a kid a friend told me he was heating up fried cheese curds in the microwave at school, and my reply must have been "Ooooh gross". But it seems I was in the minority who did not know about the joy of cheese curds, and only figured it out much later in life, as a tourist in my home state.

                                                I just received a holiday gift from a relative of many, many kinds of cheese, including 5 year old cheddar, and some summer sausage, and yes, cheese curds, all from a local dairy. Of course the cheese curds weren't as fresh as when we bought them in person, asking if they had indeed been delivered that morning, and one time even waiting for the truck to arrive.

                                                They were shrink wrapped, as someone said, to preserve them, and they are quite salty. I had to test them before the partner got home (wouldn't want to disappoint her and all), and indeed, despite being shrink wrapped, no squeak at all. Tried the microwave thing. OK 30 seconds was defintely too long, though they'd make a great pizza topping. Next place, 5 seconds too short, 10 seconds, 15, hmm a little squeaky but not quite even. Next plate, 15 seconds right off the bat. Melted! Hmmm depends in part on the amount of curds on the plate.

                                                Meanwhile the remainder were coming up to room temp and indeed getting nicely squeaky, just a little bit, but enough to make them legit. Now, I'm guesing, once they get to room temp 10 secs in the microwave ought to squeak them up a bit, but my feeling so far is that if you're microwaving, you're melting, so just be careful. Btw they're still really good a bit melty, sort of a diet fried cheese curds, if there can be such a thing.

                                                1. Cheese curds are only the best thing ever! lol. Anyone in Western NY needs to go to Yancey's Fancy in Corfu,NY and buy some. (They are also carried in Wegmans stores and more but the freshly made are best ;-) ) I think Heluva Good makes/made them too, and they were goood.

                                                  1. Meh. I heard everyone raving about cheese curds so I stopped by a cheese factory on I-90 in Western Washington and got some once. They were...too young, too fresh for me. Maybe because I prefer my cheese to be aged (unless it's a creamy or semi-soft). They had a weird plastic-y texture.

                                                    I'm sure they melt just fine, though.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: pdxgastro

                                                      Texture is the main attraction in the ones that people rave about. You see the term 'squeaky' all the time. Flavor comes from the salt, not any aging. In that sense they are more like mozzarella, or one of the Mexican queso fresco.

                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                        Squeaky is a perfect way to describe it.

                                                        A. I like mozzarella and B. I think you're wrong about aging affecting flavor. "As a cheese ages, microbes and enzymes transform texture and intensify flavor. This transformation is largely a result of the breakdown of casein proteins and milkfat into a complex mix of amino acids, amines, and fatty acids."

                                                        1. re: pdxgastro

                                                          There are curds and then there are curds. The good ones are really freshly made (ideally eaten the same day) and lose their squeak and flavour as the days pass. Agree that saltiness is important but the squeakier (the fresher) the better for me. We refer to cheese curds as squeakers in our house :-). I once had them while they were so fresh they were still warm at a farmhouse on Vancouver Island -- swoon.

                                                    2. When growing up in New Orleans we often had "cream cheese" for breakfast. The milkman would deliver it with our milk each morning. It was actually curds and whey. Sprinkled with a little sugar we ate it right out of the round waxed paper/cardboard containers it came in. Loved it then and still do but have not seen it in yearsl My mother would mix it with sugar and a little sour milk and freeze it in the frig. Frozen cream cheese was a special treat.