Well, look at me. I’ve been in Minnesota for five weeks now, and already I assume everyone else in the world knows what fried cheese curds are. Apparently some people need an introductory course because if they actually knew what fried cheese curds were and what they tasted like, they would not be scoffing at them. I will now attempt to briefly describe a fried cheese curd and put them into context with Minnesota culture.
First of all, lefty_grrrl is right- cheese curds are curdled. But all cheese is. I don’t want to get into the details of making cheese because it is pretty gross but basically an enzyme is added to the liquid cheese mixture to make it curdle into little clumps or curds about the size and shape of peanuts in a shell. Think of a carton of cottage cheese on a much larger scale. Typically, after the curds are formed, they are strained out of the cheese mixture, and compressed into blocks and then packaged which is what most of you associate with cheese. Cheese curds are before that stage and because the farmers don’t have to do any more processing at that point, the curds can be cheaply sold to county and state fairs to be battered and deep-fried. They are mostly sold at fairs and events in the Midwest (rather than groceries stores all over the country) because their age is key to their taste and texture. The best curds are extremely fresh and even shipping ruins the essence of the curd. Hard-core Midwesterners like the taste so much that they prefer them raw since their flavor is so distinct from typical store-bought cheese.
Usually the cheese curds you get at events up here are cheddar curds- they would otherwise go on to live life as part of a block of cheddar cheese. But they don’t really taste like cheddar cheese because they are still too fresh to get that sharp, “aged” taste. So they’re actually very mild and taste sorta like a cross between mild cheddar and mozzarella. Only WAY better. Another key to a good fried cheese curd is preparation. They must always be battered (NOT breaded like so many mozzarella sticks) and surprisingly too much batter kills the taste. You want just a thin layer of batter on there before frying it so the grease can be absorbed and cook the cheese but not so the grease is overpowering the fresh flavor of the curd.
Here’s a good example I found:
And you’re right, minnesotablue and mr. schprock- they are loaded with fat and grease and sodium and all the word’s evils. But they are so rich and intense that I don’t think I know anyone who could eat the whole serving shown above. Dean (who deeply enjoys his dairy products and fried foods) wouldn’t even tackle a whole serving. I think I actually ate more than he did.
Fried cheese curds, as I mentioned, are a staple at county fairs, special events and the Minnesota State Fair, where they are usually sold out of a trailer that looks like this:
The State Fair is known for serving excellent dairy (there’s a building devoted to dairy products including statues carved from butter and a long line for the best milk shakes in the state) and for its fried food. Cheese curds are at the intersection of these temptations and a must for any fair goers. But the other fried food is awesome, they come out with new stuff every year. It used to be that when my mom and stepdad would go, they would email me a list of the new fried foods there, and I’d forward it to Randy who’d get a huge kick out of it. Past experiments have included fried candy bars, pickles, Twinkies and spaghetti and meatballs. If you want anything much more exotic than that, you’ll have to go to Wisconsin.