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What Are Cheese Curds and What Are They Made Of?
Cheese curds are bits of curdled milk formed in the process of making cheese. They are pieces of cheese in its natural shape that has not been processed into blocks and aged.
Cheese curds are made with pasteurized milk, starter culture, and rennet—a compound of enzymes that causes milk solids to separate from liquid whey in the cheesemaking process. Cheese curds are typically made from cheddar cheese, but can also be made from other cheeses such as Colby and Monterey Jack.
What Do Cheese Curds Look and Taste Like?
Cheese curds are moist and have a rubbery texture. They have a mild, salty taste. Cheese curds can be white, yellow, or orange depending on the type of cheese they are made from and the diet of the cow.
The natural additive annatto seed gives Wisconsin cheddar cheese its signature orange hue. Wisconsin cheese curds are typically orange, cheese curds manufactured in New York or Vermont are generally white.
Cheese curds have the nickname “squeaky cheese,” because fresh cheese curds make a squeaking noise when consumed. Elasticized strands of protein in the cheese curds rub against tooth enamel. In addition to being a fun sound effect, the squeak of cheese curds determines freshness. Curds should be consumed within hours of being manufactured. This is why fresh curds are most prominent in areas with dairy production. Cheese curds should be stored at room temperature to maintain freshness.
How Are Cheese Curds Typically Made?
Cheese curds are a by-product of the cheesemaking process. First, raw milk is heated and pasteurized in a large vat. A starter culture is then added to the pasteurized milk to acidify the milk and begin the curdling process. Rennet is added to coagulate the milk, which causes the solids to separate from the whey or the liquid. The milk solids, or curds, congeal together. Then the blocks of curds are repeatedly cut and stacked on top of each other to remove moisture from the cheese, a process called cheddaring. At this step, the curds are separated out and salted.
How Are Cheese Curds Used in Cooking?
Cheese curds can be a standalone finger food or can be additions to recipes.
- Wisconsinites often beer batter and deep fry cheddar cheese curds. Deep-fried cheese curds can be seasoned with flavors such as garlic, sour cream, or jalapeño peppers.
- Canadians use cheese curds to make poutine, which originated in Quebec. It’s a dish comprised of french fries and cheese curds, topped with brown gravy.
- Fresh curds can also be added to a salad for some lighter fare. Cheese curds can substitute mozzarella in a caprese salad, or be added to an apple and walnut salad.
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