The Surprising History of Cheese Curds

September 12, 2023 4 min read

The Surprising History of Cheese Curds

There’s a good reason cheese curds are considered a Wisconsin favorite, and it has a lot to do with the midwest-states’ status as number one producer of cheese in the United States. Cheese curds are growing in popularity, from toppings on salads and drinks to bar snacks, they’re providing a delicious competition for french fries. These tasty, squeaky little snacks have a fascinating backstory, from the how-they’re-made to the why-they-squeak.

The Early Years

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Humans have been turning milk into cheese for over 7,000 years, plenty of time to get it right in our opinion. Some say that cheese curds have their roots, much like many of the other greats, in Ancient Rome. Romans created a delicious treat that they called globuli which consisted of cheese curds, dredged in semolina flour, fried up in olive oil, and then covered in sweet honey. This sweet treat was popular back then, and clearly hasn’t lost any fans since the first century CE, because you can find fried cheese curds at most pubs in the midwest.

As people got settled throughout the United States, Wisconsin started out producing cheese around the year 1840, and quickly took to the profession, attracting immigrants from cheesy world capitals like Switzerland and Germany. These new minds combined their cheese making prowess with local talent to hone Wisconsin into a hub of dairy producing goodness. By 1922, Wisconsin’s cheese industry had blossomed with family owned, small, and large factories all producing the country’s supply of cheese, and there were over 2800 factories in the state. Among these came out Wolf Guernsey Dairy, a small creamery in Loyal, WI, which eventually becameGardner’s Wisconsin Cheese & Sausage, a generational dairy family creamery that continues to operate from Wisconsin, spreading cheesy deliciousness to the hearts (and stomachs) of the rest of the country.

The Science of the Cheese Curd

Of course, a state that produces over two billion pounds of cheese annually will also accrue plenty of dairy by-products. This is where our squeaky little curds make their entrance. Curds are a natural product of the cheesemaking process with the most common cheese curds coming from a form of cheddar. Baby cheddar is a cheddar cheese that has only been lightly aged, making it very mild. Of course, cheese curds are even milder than that as they are separated from the whey and promptly salted and enjoyed within a week or two of being formed which allows no time for aging. 

These curds have incredible pull, pardon the pun, not only for the satisfying balance of fatty and salty flavors, but also for their unique freshness indicator. Any cheese curd connoisseur will tell you, fresh curds squeak.

The squeak of the cheese curd has actually earned it the nickname “squeaks” among its adoring fans and is included in the judging of a quality cheese curd. The reason behind the squeak comes from the physical makeup of the curd itself. Cheese is made up of casein molecules which are bound together tightly with calcium phosphate. This makes curds a tight knit group of molecules that rub against your teeth when bitten (similar to the way your finger sings on the rim of a wine glass). As the cheese ages, the lactic acid inside begins to break down the calcium phosphate bonds resulting in an increase in flavor, but also a softer cheese that loses its characteristic bounce. That means that the very best cheese curds come straight from the vat to the plate.

This posed a bit of an issue for those who love cheese, but don’t live next to a creamery. How did they get the best squeak with the least travel?Researchers found that refrigerated curds could squeak for up to two weeks, but no longer than that, and they found that frozen curds would continue to maintain their freshness for three months, making the shipment of these covetous curds a possibility. This also means that cheese curds are not the same thing as cheese cut into curd-like shapes. Cheese that has been aged, no matter how mild, has a different physical make up to an authentic cheese curd and will not squeak or taste the same as real curd.

The Modern Curd

Cheese curds are naturally white, but they are sometimes colored with dye made from annatto seeds which turns them that familiar orange color, but the dye does not change the flavor of the cheese. That’s right, white and orange cheddar tastes exactly the same! Some producers dye their cheese orange for a more consistent color because different milk from different cows can cause color variation and a more uniform color can be more attractive to consumers. 

Additionally, you can find flavored curds in the artisanal cheese section of the grocery store or online atGardners. With fun flavors like garlic and dill,maple bacon, and honey bbq, what’s not to love?! These flavorings are added right after the curds are separated and spice up this already-tasty snack. Cheese curds are best eaten warmed to room temperature or popped in the microwave for 5 to 10 seconds or battered and fried. Cheese curds have gone from a cheesemaking by-product to a staple in bars and restaurants in its fried form and a nutritious addition or snack when eaten on its own. Put them on a salad or a charcuterie board, these curds will have you melting for more.

If you’d like to try your own hand at enjoying delicious Wisconsin cheese curds and you are far from the midwest, you can make your own or order cheese to be sent to you.Gardner’s Wisconsin Cheese Squeaky Cheese Curds are made in the morning, vacuum sealed, and shipped the same day so that only the freshest of curds arrive at your doorstep. Eat them right out of the bag or freeze them to enjoy later; the world is your cheese board.

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