by Ari Weinzweig
Cheese curds were one the major hits of the last year at the Roadhouse. Although they aren’t even on the menu, people actually get angry when we don’t have them in house. Which I guess you could class as a good problem. If you haven’t had them, let me invite you over for a taste. What I’ve experienced in the last six months is that pretty much everyone likes these things. Kids like ‘em and adults like ‘em. First-timers fall for them quickly; long time Zingerman’s food fanatics are into them as well. Even Europeans who come over to visit seem to have become big fans. The funny thing is that in contrast to all the poetry that Southerners muster up about sorghum, finding anyone who’s written or will even say anything much about cheese curds hasn’t been easy. In fact, in a year or so of reading and asking, I’ve basically uncovered next to nothing. What I have found is the smiles on the faces of the people who eat them—there’s a nice glow that they get, a sort of naturally happy look that you usually associate with all-American stuff like ice cream and apple pie. It shows up on the faces of first-timers, but also on those of native Wisconsinites who are amazed at just how good these particular fried cheese curds actually are. In this case, it’s not just about memories—these seem to be as good or often better than most folks from the Dairy state remember them.
Up until last fall when we started to make them at the Roadhouse, we’d have to have driven round the lake to Wisconsin to get them. But as one customer already wrote to the website having read the Zingerman’s Times ad in the Observer, Ann Arborites won’t have to drive six hours west for fried curds any more because we’ve got them on the specials list at the Roadhouse.
If you haven’t had them before, fried cheese curds are about as basic a building block of Wisconsin eating as you can get. Ely at the RH called them “Wisconsin on a plate.” I think they’re pretty much the “National Dish of Wisconsin.” Whatever you call them, they’ve been selling like crazy. As one customer said, “What’s not to like? Really good fried cheese.”
In the Dairy State when people talk about eating curds, they’re referring either to freshly made cheddar curds, or to those same unaged curds that have been deep fried. Since we’re a bit far to be getting freshly made cheddar curds all the way here from Wisconsin, what we’re talking about here is the really good to eat fried version. Don’t think we need to lament our fate on this one though. The online food newsletter, Belly du Jour, wrote last month “The only thing tastier than a fresh cheese curd is a fresh, fried cheese curd. State fairs throughout the Midwest serve up these golden bites of heaven all month long, but beware: one taste and you’ll be donning a cheese hat before you know it.”
The curds themselves are made by Joe Widmer and crew in Theresa, Wisconsin, the same folks from whom we get the really great, traditionally made Brick cheese. The curds are dipped in a batter made with Sprecher’s Pub Ale, made in Milwaukee, then deep fried and served with a bit of roasted Jalapeno Ranch dressing. Haute cuisine they aren’t, but if you want to get a taste of really well-made, traditional, regionally-based American food, definitely give ‘em a try.