I’d Like Cheese With That, Please

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by Kira Gutknecht, Wisconsin Cheese Aficionado

Cheese Curd. Think of it as baby cheese, it’s what a block of Cheddar looks like before it’s pressed and aged. Better yet, don’t think too much about it. Just put it into your mouth and enjoy the flavor. When it squeaks, you’ll know it’s fresh. And be careful, it is addicting.

I’ve found myself reciting this description to those new to the state of Wisconsin on more than one occasion. If you’re from out of state and have visited friends here but were never introduced to the unique flavor and texture of cheese curds, now is a good time to question the validity of your friendship. Kidding, of course (well … kind of). If you’re a local you know that it’s common courtesy to make the introduction at your first opportunity to do so.

Wisconsin Cheese is truly like no other. From the rolling hills and beautiful bluffs of southern Wisconsin to the serene lakes and evergreen forests of northern Wisconsin, each region contributes a unique version to the vast array of cheeses the state has to offer.

I grew up in a small town in southwestern Wisconsin in a family where cheese was a prevalent ingredient in most meals. My passion for all things cheese is something that’s naturally inherent. At one point during my adolescence, upon bringing new friends home, it was commonplace to be forced into watching the history of Limburger Cheese a public television documentary that my father assumed everybody else would find as fascinating as he did. My sister and I eventually found a loophole and said to our friends, “Tell him he has already shown it to you, and you won’t have to watch it.”

Our summers rarely passed without the annual multigenerational family road trip to Monroe, Wisconsin. It is in this part of the state that we frequent the Chalet Cheese Co-op, the last traditional Limburger cheesemaker in the United States, and Baumgartner’s restaurant, whose main attraction are sandwiches featuring the distinctivesmelling cheese.

My passion and obsession for delicious cheese has transcended my youth and carried into my adult life. At every chance available, I frequent the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. In addition to fresh produce and homemade baked goods, its there you can find and sample some of the state’s tastiest cheeses.

Another event I look forward to is Cheese Days. It happens in Monroe, Wisconsin, during the third weekend of September in evennumbered years. If you’ve never gone, it’s your lucky year. I invite you to explore the Swiss heritage the community has to offer.

If you’ve been curious but never courageous enough to try a new type of cheese, now is the time. From Gouda and Havarti to Gruyère and Mascarpone, there’s a whole world of cheese waiting to be discovered.

Celebrate Wisconsin Cheese with the Top Three Wisconsin Cheeses to Taste.

Artisan

If you’re looking to impress guests at a dinner party or simply want to indulge in a delightful cheese, I recommend Pleasant Ridge Reserve. It’s an Alpine-style cheese crafted at Upland Cheese Company just outside of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. This cheese is full of incredible flavor unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, thanks to the farm’s grassfed cows. If you find that you like this cheese (and you will), check out Fromagination the next time you’re in Madison a chic yet charming artisan cheese shop just off the Capital Square.

Organic

My number-one recommendation for organic cheese is Organic Valley’s Muenster Cheese. Located in La Farge, Wisconsin, Organic Valley offers a variety of cheeses, all of which are excellent, but the Muenster Cheese is exceptional. It’s a soft, salty cheese with a smooth texture and a tasty, edible rind. It’s perfect on grilled sandwiches, as it melts into the most mouthwatering, cheesy, gooey, salty satisfaction your taste buds have ever known. If I had to describe this cheese in one word it would be: addicting.

Curds

When it comes to cheese curds, the most important thing to keep in mind is that not all cheese curds are created equal. To truly experience the flavor they have to offer, be sure to find cheese curds that were made within the last 24 to 48 hours. The best cheese curds are those that have been left at room temperature. I recommend Carr Valley cheese curds from La Valle, Wisconsin. This Wisconsin Cheese company is over 100 years old. They deliver fresh cheese curds to local vendors throughout the southern part of Wisconsin and know what they’re doing when it comes to cheese. You might ask, what about fried cheese curds? My favorites are at the Old Fashioned Restaurant in downtown Madison.

I challenge you to discover unique Wisconsin Cheeses. Pick up a few wedges the next time you’re in the grocery store, and invite your friends over for a wine and cheese or beer and cheese pairing (yes, beer goes great with cheese). To get an idea of which cheeses and libations pair best, visit CheeseCupid.com. What are you doing to discover cheese? Share your ideas, recipes and party plans here on this blog!


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