By Leslie Kelly

Cheese curds have the power to transform your regular grilled cheese sandwich into a feat of gooey greatness. Wait, what the heck are cheese curds?

Photo via Face Rock Creamery d

A Word About Curds

Wisconsin residents have long known the joys of cheese curds, those bite-size chunks of cheddar that has not been aged. They're created when rennet is added to warm milk and the curds separate from the liquid whey. (Rennet, by the way, is a complex set of enzymes sourced from the stomach of young animals, one of the reasons cheese is not eaten by vegetarians.) Cheese curds have a mild flavor and a texture that's often described as "squeaky." They're a beloved staple at family gatherings in the great state famous for all things dairy. Those formerly hard-to-find curds are going mainstream; they're now available in many supermarket across the country.

Playing with Cheese Curds

Face Rock Creamery in Bandon, Ore., recently sent me some of their cheese curds, including their ultra-garlicky Vampire Slayer flavor. At first, I was stumped by what exactly to do with them. I've only eaten deep-fried cheese curds, or as part of the gravy-soaked, Canadian French fry dish, poutine and while those preparations can be incredible, I wanted to do something different.

It wasn't until I randomly tossed a few curds in a bowl of chili that I started to realize their amazing potential. They turned perfectly gooey in the middle of those spicy beans, a stringy trail of cheese emerging in each spoonful. Later, I tried adding to my fave macaroni and cheese. Oh, yeah! And same story with a steak quesadilla. Partnered with another melt-y cheese — gouda, Monterey Jack, cheddar — the curds added a whole new texture. It's almost as if when they're warmed, they turn into instant cheese sauce.

Photo by Gema Scott

Making the Best Grilled Cheese

Those cheese curds got the ultimate test when I popped them in between a couple of slices of pecan-flax seed bread (any rustic loaf will do) and warmed the whole thing over medium-high heat on an electric griddle. This toasty bread treat was everything a grilled cheese sandwich should be: A contrast of crunchy on the outside giving way to gooey, flavorful cheese inside. So simple and so spot on. Can't wait to try future cheese curd experiments! Next up, cheese curd-topped pizza.

Video by Vanessa Greaves

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