Friday, July 07, 2006

Reasons To Go To Wisconsin

Every year my lab attends a week-long international conference specializing in the subject that we study (being intentionally vague here so as to not gross out random readers). The location of the meeting is different every year. One meeting was in Australia, last year's was in Finland. Please take a guess as to where I went for the one meeting that it has so far been my pleasure (read : obligation) to attend? Oh yes, Wisconsin. I may be forever bitter about this.

I hear from many people how wonderful Madison, Wisc is. A number of my friends really love it there. I so don't get it. I am a city person and always have been. I spent the first third (I'm aging!) of my life in one of the largest cities in the world and the lifestyle stuck. I don't do well in non-cities (still trying to forget undergrad). Madison, by all definitions and descriptions is not a city. So, no, I am not planning on moving there any time soon (or ever) but some good things have come out of Wisconsin and I now wish to do pay them the attention they are due. The most notable product of Wisconsin is, of course, Lisa. I realize that not everyone can have a Lisa of their very own, but don't despair - there is also beer and cheese curds.

I had cheese curds for the first time while in Madison, one of the few places one can actually get fresh cheese curds in the country – they are only available at cheese factories (oh how I would love to have a cheese factory down the street!!). Cheese curds are what milk becomes before it is allowed to mature into cheese. I guess that makes them prepubescent cheese :) Yes, I know I am a dork. Cheese curds are quarter-sized nuggets that taste like a milder, saltier form of the cheese they will one day become, crossed with the freshest, most fragrant milk you have ever had in your life. The texture is entirely different from that of aged cheese. Curds are more elastic and less creamy than cheese, reminiscent of string cheese but juicier and more delicate.

The unique characteristic of cheese curds is the “squeak” against one’s teeth when biting into them. The squeak is lost if the curds are not absolutely fresh – two or three days past manufacture is enough time to lose the squeak and all the associated interesting texture and taste. Interesting factoid: cheese curds are huge in Quebec, where they are the star ingredient in poutine (described here and here) – fries topped with cheese curds and a gravy-style sauce. How’s that for a heart attack? I am happy enough eating cheese curds straight but my curiosity with poutine is at a fever pitch at the moment. Don't yet know what I can do about it...

The cheese curds in the picture above were kindly brought back from Wisconsin by Lisa just today (again, friends who know me well bring me food...). The ones you see are of the white sharp cheddar variety, but there are many other variations and flavors, such as traditional yellow sharp cheddar and even flavored with chives or dill. They are utterly addictive in that salty, chewy, juicy way. It is important to kepp in mind that they are still cheese, with all the glorious and generous fat content of cheese. I remembered this only after I had a heaping handful of them. I had to sit down for a while. I had to get my fill of them today as a) they will not be nearly as good tomorrow (they dry up and become crumbly), and b) I don’t have a cheese factory near me! One can order cheese curds online but no packing or shipping technology available today is sufficient to preserve the all-important freshness of the curds. Bummer. Looks like I may have to go back to Wisconsin after all.


P.S. Don't want to give the wrong impression here - I did enjoy my week in Madison. Friendships were made and/or cemented, and much much beer, cheese curds, and ice cream were consumed. Oh yeah. I guess there was some science there too.


anthony griffiths said...

what kind of masochist came up with poutine? Don't get me wrong, I love it; but it must be the least healthy food invented

Does your love of fresh cheese curds mean that you are going to have a go at making them yourself? Apparently it's not too hard.

FireFlyFiftyFive said...

Yum cheese curds! I'm in CA now, but a WI native - I did a fun little post on My Very Own Blog a few months back on cheese curds:

(I happened to find you thru Zen Foodism.)