Tillamook, one of the country’s greatest producers of Cheddar cheese, has declared today “Squeaky Cheese Day.” For those who haven’t had the pleasure, squeaky cheese refers to cheese curds, small Cheddar nuggets so fresh that they squeak when you eat them.
Because of the short shelf life of cheese curds, they are normally sold only at the cheese factory. But in honor of Tillamook’s 104th birthday, you can buy their Squeaky Cheese Curds online today only, with some of the proceeds going to the Oregon Food Bank to support hunger relief. Two bags are $15.00, plus shipping.
Cheese curds are one of our favorite fun foods. In Wisconsin, where the many cheese factories produce a steady supply of cheese curds, they’re the bar food of choice and on the menu of almost every eatery, plain or flavored. The reason is: They only squeak when they’re fresh.
Some producers vacuum-pack them for wider distribution, so check at your cheese store or consider ordering them online from Tillamook, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese or other online source.
A perfect snack: cheese curds beer. Photo courtesy Rogue Creamery.
WHAT ARE CHEESE CURDS
Cheese curds are the fresh curds created in the production of Cheddar cheese. As milk is converted to cheese, it produces the solid curds and and the liquid whey.
To make Cheddar, the whey is drained off and the curds are pressed together in molds to form the cheese. But if you remove the curds and sell them, you provide a special treat.
Typically, you need to go to a Cheddar cheese factory to get curds, since they should be enjoyed the day they are made. But we’ve ordered them online and found them to be just as yummy a few days later. As the curds age they loose their squeak, but not their deliciousness.
Cheese curds form in random shapes: large nuggets the size of unshelled peanuts, with a texture something like mozzarella.
The flavor is mild, like mozzarella, but saltier; and while the majority of curds are sold plain, the flavored varieties are delicious. We’ve tasted everything from dill to jalapeño, and you can mix in your favorite flavor.
Cheese curds in dill and jalapeño flavors.
Photo courtesy Rogue Creamery.
WHAT MAKES CHEESE CURDS SQUEAK
The squeak you hear when you munch on cheese curds comes from the protein composition of fresh curds.
When the protein in the cheese rubs against the enamel of one’s teeth, it makes a squeaky sound.
As the curds age, moisture evaporates and the protein in the cheese consolidates. That’s why regular Cheddar cheese, and curds older than a few days, don’t squeak.
HOW FRESH TO THEY HAVE TO BE?
curds are ideally eaten the day they are made. After 24 hours they lose their squeak. And that’s why curds are not well known outside of areas where cheese is made. (The vacuum packaging, in which we received our mail-order curds, preserved them just fine.)
Cheese curds will remain moist and tasty for a few days and then start to dry out—which may be why Wisconsinites like to deep-fry them and serve them with ranch dressing. (Here’s a recipe for fried cheese curds.)
HOW TO ENJOY CHEESE CURDS
You can flavor plain cheese curds as you like. Pesto is an easy and delicious flavor agent.
As hors d’oeuvres, with toothpicks or on skewers
As a side, at breakfast with eggs; at lunch with sandwiches and burgers
As part of a salade composée
As grilled (or microwaved) cheese—especially popular in toasted pita—with fresh tomato
Atop pizza, instead of mozzarella
Atop fettuccine, with flavored curds (we first warmed pesto curds for 10 seconds in the microwave, which created a new fusion comfort food we really like)
On crusty bread or toast, with added pesto
And in all cases, tossed with some freshly-snipped basil leaves
In Quebec, perhaps the other North American cheese curd capital, the curds mixed with French fries and gravy to create the beloved French-Canadian snack, poutine. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.