You don’t have to be a certified cheesemonger to appreciate one of the hottest things happening on the cheese scene today.
Curd is definitely the word, and these small and spongy morsels mean big business at eateries across town.
For the unenlightened, cheese curds are the solid parts of curdled milk that come into formation after the coagulant known as rennet is added and the whey begins to separate.
This goes way beyond Little Miss Muffet, so to better understand the important role of coagulation, I sat down with local cheese guru Tana Fryer to get her credentialed perspective on curds.
“The rennet is an essential component of the curd because that’s really what gives it its form and its distinctiveness,” said Fryer, proprietor of Blu, a cheese catering and consulting company that provides premium cheeses to local restaurants.
Fryer tells me that rennet can come from multiple sources, from fig tree bark to various molds and fungi.
But the most common form of rennet for coagulating curds comes from animal sources and, according to Fryer, the lining of calf stomachs frequently gets the nod from cheesemakers.
“These enzymes, which we call rennin and pepsin, both act as a digester of the proteins in dairy products which facilitates the coagulant,” she said.
The science certainly sounds fascinating, but how do they taste?
I’m told that curds taste great when served fresh right out of the refrigerator, but some local chefs like what a little tempura batter and hot oil can bring to the party.
Ben Caballero’s “Glory Curds” are such a hit at his downtown restaurant that he currently goes through about 140 pounds of curds a week.
“There are people who for whatever reason try to stay away from fried cheese, but once they come here and try our curds, they just go head-in,” said Caballero, executive chef at Hub Restaurant and Ice Creamery, 266 E. Congress Street.
Caballero procures his white cheddar curds from the Lynn Dairy Farm in Wisconsin. He starts by coating the curds with a beer batter spiked with a little Sriracha sauce, flash-frying them tempura style, and serving them with a Sriracha ketchup for dipping.
The Glory Curds are on his standard appetizer menu, but Caballero has noticed his guests getting rather creative with them.
“I’ve seen people order our chicken wings and place them right on top of an order of curds,” he said. “It’s glorious.”
Meanwhile, out on the eastside, C.J. Hamm’s “Curds of Awesomeness” have attracted a large and loyal following.
“Our curds are 100 percent Wisconsin white cheddar, and the secret is to ensure that they’re stone cold frozen, I mean like a rock, before they’re lightly coated with our beer batter, rolled in seasoned flour, and fried,” said Hamm, corporate chef at Saguaro Corners, 3750 S. Old Spanish Trail.
Hamm says the freeze factor is critical because the hot oil will threaten the consistency that he’s after if the curds melt too fast.
“I like some drip in the cheese, and a little goo is always good, but the curds should maintain some of their shape and form when you dip them in our sweet chili sauce and bite into them,” he said. “It’s about elasticity, that’s what we want.”
So how do these chefs like to wash down the glory and awesomeness of their respective curds?
For Caballero, it’s a Dos Equis beer.
For Hamm, just give him a pint of Copperhead Pale Ale from Barrio Brewing Company.
Beer and coagulated cheese. Duh. Why did I even have to ask?
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.