By Shelly Detwiler, berry farmer and dietician
Over the years we’ve talked about the importance of dairy, ice cream and cheese but let’s talk cheese curds. One cool thing about fresh cheese curds is that they can squeak! That’s right, squeak! The National Dairy Council says that this squeak is from the tightly woven protein that when it “rebounds” off our teeth creates a squeak. Don’t worry if you don’t hear a squeak, the experts at NDC say sometimes the conditions in the cheesemaking process change and there never was a squeak to be made.
What exactly is a cheese curd? Fresh cheese curds are squeaky irregular bite-sized cheese. They are basically the first step in cheese making. It all starts with about 10 pounds of un-ultra-pasteurized milk to make 1-pound cheese curds. Acid is added to milk, coagulated using rennet, then heated and cut. The whey (liquid) is separated from the solid “baby bite-size” pieces (the curds). To continue to make the Big Cheese, the cheese curds are pressed together to form blocks and/or rounds of cheese. Interesting enough, I found that cheese curds are best enjoyed within the first few days, hours actually of being made. Don’t get me wrong you can still eat them, but they won’t squeak, they are drier and saltier. Of course, if you are going to fry them, it doesn’t really matter.
The story of the invention of cheese curds goes like this…a nomad about to leave on a journey poured milk into his bag (made from a calf’s stomach). Yuck!! After his long journey he opened his bag to find cheese curds. Now, I also heard almost the exact same story about yogurt so who knows, it is probably just a myth. The cheese curds are primarily a midwestern thing due to the fact that most cheese plants are found in Wisconsin, Ohio and New York. Culvers made fried cheese curds a craze when they added them to their menu, now making over 18 million orders of cheese curds a year.
I’ve tried fried cheese curds across the country. By far, the best are at my local burger joint, Half-Pint. They don’t squeak nor would I want them to. They are lightly hand breaded and fried to perfection, with just enough coating to contain the incredible melting curd. They provide a southwestern slightly spicy sauce to dip them into. Of course, dipping them into a spicy berry sauce would also take them to the next level. Drop by anytime and I’d love to share an order with you! Cheers to Dairy month.
Eat well and healthy,
Grilled Cheese Curd Panzanella seriouseats.com
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, stemmed, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
12 fresh basil leaves, chopped
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 pound hearty bread (ciabatta works well), sliced into 1-inch thick slices
4 ounces cheese curd, cut into 1-inch cubes
In a large bowl, combine the chopped tomatoes, red wine vinegar, garlic, basil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir well and set aside.
Set a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush the slices of bread with a tablespoon of the oil. Cook, flipping occasionally, until grill marks appear and the bread is crisp. Set bread aside on a cutting board to cool for a minute.
Meanwhile, reduce the heat on the grill pan to medium-low. Wait a minute or two for it to cool down, and then brush with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the curds and cook until they are browned and crisp on the bottom, but not completely melted on top. When done, use a fork and carefully remove the curds from the grill pan and set aside on a plate.
Chop the bread slices into 1-inch cubes and toss well with the tomatoes. Season the mixture with more salt if needed. Divide the panzanella between four large bowls and garnish with the grilled cheese curds.
Baked Cheese Curds Geniuskitchen.com
10 ounces cheese curds
1 cup flour
4 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
olive oil flavored cooking spray
2 c Italian seasoned panko style breadcrumbs
In three trays set up a breading station, the first with flour (seasoned with salt and pepper), the second with eggs and milk (well beaten and seasoned with salt and pepper), and the third with bread crumbs (I use 1 box Progresso Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs).
Working with a dry hand and a wet hand, move the curds through the three stations, flour first, egg wash second, bread crumbs third, back to egg wash and finally through the bread crumbs. This will double bread the cheese. The goal is to completely cover the cheese with the breading, and it does get messy. Place breaded cheese on a wax paper lined cookie sheet.
After all cheese is breaded, place the cookie sheet in the freezer until the curds set up. I like to freeze for a minimum of four hours. After they have set up you can store in a freezer storage bag.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray each cheese curd with cooking spray and place on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Cook for 15-20 minutes until brown and maybe one or two start to leak. Serve with marinara sauce.
Fresh Homemade Cheese Curds cheesemaking.com
Most of these supplies you can purchase online at cheesemaking.com or Amazon
2 gallons of Milk (Not UltraPasteurized)
½ tsp. calcium chloride
1packet C201 Thermophilic Culture
1/2tsp Single Strength Liquid Rennet
Start out by bringing 2 Gallons of milk up to a temperature of 96¡F. Once the milk is at 96F, set a timer for 90 minutes (so you can measure the critical process from ripening through scald; this is the critical part and needs to run by the clock) and proceed with the recipe. Optional If you want more color in the curds add 1/4-1/2 tsp of annato cheese coloring at this point.
Next measure out 1/2 tsp of single strength Liquid Rennet and add this to 1/4 cup of cool water, add and stir the milk gently for about 30 seconds. In about 6-10 minutes the milk will begin to gel and in 18-25 minutes a firm set should take place. This can be tested by inserting a knife and lifting with the broad surface to split the curd as seen above. In a few seconds the cut will fill with clear whey, if it is cloudy wait a few more minutes.
Next cut the curd surface into 3/4inch cubes. Wait 3 minutes then begin to stir. Keeping the temperature at 96¡F and as you stir the curds will become smaller.
You can now begin heating the curds slowly to 116 degrees F over 30 minutes. They will continue to shrink as more whey is released. About now your timer should be going off. Continue to cook the curds for 30-60 minutes depending on how dry you like them. Once the curds are cooked, transfer them to a cloth lined colander to drain.
The cloth is then gathered by its corners and hung for 15 to 20 minutes. Then the cloth is twisted tight to press the curds together. A small plate, placed on top of the curds, provides an excellent flat surface for pressing.
Press with a weight of 1 Gallon of water (app. 8 lbs) and let set 1-3 hours. In about 1-3 hours, you’ll have a nice consolidated mass of curds. This curd mass can now be broken into bite size pieces and tossed with a bit of salt.
It is now ready for eating. I store the curds in a zip lock bag in the fridge. NOTE: If you have a pH meter, the end of step 5 should be pH 6.4 and after step 7 it should be pH 5.3.