What’s In A Curd?
According to legend, cheese curds were inadvertently discovered by a middle-eastern traveller who had stored some milk in a drink bag made from the stomach of a calf. After a long day’s travel through the hot desert the traveller, hoping for a refreshing sip of milk, instead found a container full of curds. It’s not the most appetising way to think about the origins of this unique delicacy and certainly doesn’t do justice to the value of the cheese curd to the cuisine of Canada and America’s mid-west.
The modern history of the cheese curd starts with the advent of the dairy industry in Wisconsin around 1840. Settlers from the eastern seaboard of the United States, as well as from western Europe, recognised the dairying potential of Wisconsin’s rich soils and subsequently began to make cheeses. By the beginning of the twentieth century, on farm cheese manufacture had given way to more than 1,000 cheese making cooperatives and Wisconsin had become the premier cheese producer in the US.
The predominant cheese type being produced was cheddar and somewhere along the line, someone realised that the salted curds which are a precursor to aged cheddar, were also a delicious fresh morsel in their own right. Salty, tangy and squeaky, this regional delicacy is truly unique.
In Wisconsin, curds are usually served battered and deep-fried, perhaps with a dusting of herbs and spices or a dipping sauce. Reputedly, the higher green grass content in the diet of Wisconsin cows results in a yellowy, stringy curd which will go gooey in the middle when fried.
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By contrast, Canadian curds are produced from cows with a higher dry feed diet and a more suited to that unique Canadian delicacy – poutine – simply chips and gravy sprinkled with salty, tangy, chewy curds which don’t carry quite the same cheesy flavour as those from Wisconsin.
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But it’s not all beer and skittles in the cheese curd world. Like regional delicacies anywhere, there is an intense curd rivalry between the Canadian and Wisconsin versions, with each claiming preferred status as the mid-west delicacy of choice. Local aficionados are fiercely protective of their regional cuisine.
Nevertheless, regardless of where it comes from, the defining feature of a quality, fresh cheese curd is its squeak when you bite into a fresh one. Whichever side of the border you fall on, though, there is no doubting the popularity that comes with being able to consume this comfort food.