Cheese curds are moist and stringy bits of curdled milk that taste delicious. They’re neither cheese nor curds but fall somewhere in between in terms of texture and flavor. So, what are cheese curds made of?
Cheese curds are a by-product of the cheesemaking process. They’re made by adding a starter culture and rennet to fresh, unpasteurized milk. This makes the milk curdle and separate into curd and whey. The curds are then compressed into solid blocks, cut, salted, separated, and used as cheese curds.
Let’s talk about this in more detail now. But first…
Some Interesting Facts About Cheese Curds
Cheese curds are a popular snack in the Mid-West regions, particularly Wisconsin and Minnesota.
These states are renowned for their cheese production, and hence it’s not surprising that cheese curds are abundantly available in these regions.
They are served as snacks on their own as well as deep-fried, batter-fried, or added to dishes like poutine.
Raw cheese curds are stringy, salty, and squeaky. They’re like dense curd but springy.
The flavors will vary according to the type of milk used and the preparation process. The color will also vary according to the milk sample and starter culture.
Most varieties are white. However, you can also find yellow and orange cheese curds.
There are numerous ways in which you can have cheese curds. You can eat them raw or as finger food or snacks.
You can also dress them up with ingredients like oil, herbs, and spice blends. Many fast-food restaurants serve them fried. They’re either deep-fried on their own or batter-fried.
Cheese curds produce a characteristic squeaky sound while being eaten. This is due to the porous casein or milk protein that traps air inside. So it produces a characteristic squeak when your teeth rub against it.
The squeakiness of a cheese curd indicates how fresh it is. Cheese curds lose their squeak when refrigerated or left out for too long.
Let’s now take a closer look at how cheese curds are made.
How Are Cheese Curds Made?
Cheese is made by curdling milk using additives that acidify and coagulate it. Cheese curds are a by-product of this process.
They’re made from pasteurized milk, a starter bacteria culture, and rennet. Rennet is an enzyme that helps milk solids separate from the whey.
The process begins with the heating of milk. Then, the starter culture is added to it. This helps the milk acidify and curdle.
At this stage, rennet is also added. The solids will now separate and clump together, leaving behind liquid whey.
At this stage, the milk solids are stacked up, pressed, and stacked again to remove their liquid content. This process is called “cheddaring,” and it results in a solid slab of cheese curd.
This slab is then cut into cubes and salted. It’s now ready for use.
Indian paneer or cottage cheese is also produced in a similar manner. To produce paneer, an acidic agent like lemon juice or vinegar is added to hot milk. This causes the milk solids to separate and clump together.
The milk solids are then pressed to release their liquid. The thick slab that remains is Paneer. It’s cut up into cubes and used in various recipes like curries and gravies.
How Is Cheese Curd Different From Cheese?
Both cheese and cheese curd is made by curdling milk.
In cheese, the milk solids that separate from the whey are molded and aged. However, cheese curds don’t undergo aging like cheese. They’re directly stacked, salted, and put to use.
So cheese curds don’t take too long to make. Their lack of aging also results in a milder and saltier version of regular cheese.
Cheese curds are called squeaky cheese because of the squeaky noise they produce while being eaten. Although most of the liquid is removed from them, they are porous.
When you bite into them, the milk protein strands rub against your teeth to produce a distinct squeaky sound, which cheese doesn’t produce.
You can think of cheese curds as baby cheddar. Their taste is surprisingly similar, though cheese curds don’t undergo aging.
How Long Do Cheese Curds Last?
Cheese holds up for a long time because it has undergone an aging process. The aging process also allows the cheese to reach its ideal flavor and texture.
Since cheese curds don’t undergo aging, they don’t last long.
In Wisconsin, cheese curds are sold within a day of production. The rules may not be as rigid in other places.
Nonetheless, freshness is a defining characteristic of cheese curds. The longer you keep them, the more their quality deteriorates.
Fresh and high-quality cheese curds are very squeaky. They have a short shelf-life and lose their squeakiness as they age because the enzymes and coagulants break down the protein and other milk constituents into smaller pieces.
Refrigeration makes the cheese curd lose its original texture. Cheese curds trap moisture when refrigerated, affecting their quality and taste significantly.
Nevertheless, if your cheese curd comes in a vacuum-sealed package and you don’t use them up in a day, it’s not necessary to discard them.
When you keep them for long, they become plain cheese. They may lack the squeaky quality of fresh cheese curd. However, you can still use them in salads, poutines, and various other recipes.
How To Preserve Cheese Curds?
As we saw earlier, you should ideally use cheese curds on the same day you buy them. They taste best within 24 hours of production.
However, if you have leftovers, you can freeze them to help them retain their moisture.
Frozen curds will lose their characteristic squeak but continue to be usable if stored in the freezer or refrigerator.
What Are Cheese Curds Used For?
Cheese curds are a rich source of nutrients and minerals. Since they’re dairy products that are rich in calcium and protein. They also contain phosphorus, zinc, and Vitamins A and B12.
They don’t have a strong flavor like cheese. Cheese curds are salty but mild in taste and can be used in numerous ways.
One way to eat cheese curds is as finger food or snacks in raw form. You can have them plain or mix them with garlic, thyme, and other herbs or seasonings.
In Quebec, cheese curds are an integral part of Poutine recipes. Poutine is a dish that combines cheese curds and French fries in a rich and creamy roux or gravy.
It’s a local delicacy with a distinct taste and texture. The combination of crispy French fries and soft, moist cheese curds makes it very unique.
You can also find various recipes for deep-fried cheese curds. Deep-fried cheese curds are very popular in Wisconsin and other areas of the Mid-West.
Many fast-food joints and restaurants in these states serve cheese curds as deep-fried snacks.
They taste great when mixed into a beer batter and fried. You can have them with sour cream and jalapenos on the side.
You can use cheese curds instead of mozzarella or cheddar cheese in various recipes. They can also be added to salads or used as pizza toppings.
You can even blend them with herbs and seasonings to prepare healthy spreads for bread.