If you’ve never been to Milwaukee, you may not know what to expect when you see “cheese curds” on the menu at the local watering hole – and you have no idea what you’re missing! This quick crash course in the quintessential Milwaukee bar food will have you confidently ordering a basket of Wisconsin cheese curds next time you find yourself in Milwaukee craving something cheesy, gooey, salty, and oh-so delicious.
What exactly is a cheese curd?
A cheese curd is a small, fresh, springy piece of cheese. During the cheese-making process, the curds are separate from the whey – these bits of cheese can be pressed into a nice block of cheddar or eaten as-is. Cheese curds are mild and slightly salty, and you can tell they’re fresh when they squeak between your teeth!
Why do cheese curds squeak?
When cheese curds are fresh, the proteins in the cheese are relatively tough, and the friction of the protein rubbing against your teeth causes the tell-tale squeak. Over time, calcium causes the proteins to soften, which is why even curds that are just a few days old may no longer be squeaky.
Okay…so I’m supposed to eat them raw?
Not necessarily! A squeaky cheese curd is a thing of beauty, but we all know there’s one surefire way to make anything better: deep fry it! Battered and deep fried cheese curds are a staple of bars, festivals, fairs, and pretty much everywhere else in Milwaukee. They’re popularly dipped in ranch, marinara, ketchup…the possibilities are endless!
Sounds great! Where can I get a basket of these?
Where can’t you get cheese curds in Milwaukee is probably a better question! You’ll find curds on the appetizer menu at many local bars and restaurants, but here are a few recommendations for great places to try this local classic:
- Clock Shadow Creamery: Get it straight from the source for the ultimate in squeaky cheese. If you want to take a tour, try to come on Wednesday or Friday morning…that’s when they make the curds!
- Wisconsin Cheese Mart: Order some fried curds for here at the on-site Uber Tap Room, then pick up a few packages to take home with you.
- Jackson’s Blue Ribbon Pub: These traditional fried curds are a great introduction to what drives locals crazy for curds.
- Lakefront Brewery: Served in the brewery's German-style beer hall, these curds are dipped in a beer batter from Lakefront’s own Eastside Dark, a Bavarian dark lager.
- Dream Dance Steak: Try this upscale take on the classic curd with “cheese curd fritters” topped with tomato jam.
- The Iron Horse Hotel: Unique tempura-battered curds are on the menu at this boutique hotel's on-site restaurants, Smyth and Branded.
What about poutine?
Apart from deep fried cheese curds, one of the most popular ways to enjoy curds is in poutine. It's hard to say no to delicious salty cheese curds on top of a basket of fries and smothered in gravy. Milwaukeeans have embraced this Canadian favorite by putting an only-in-MKE spin on it. Try the breakfast poutine at Cafe at the Plaza, Comet Cafe's duck confit poutine, or a traditional Quebec-style poutine at West Allis Cheese & Sausage Mart in the Milwaukee Public Market.