News of the Food
By Heather Irwin
Uff dah! Hot, greasy and full of artery-clogging cholesterol, fried cheese curds made their debut at A&W restaurants nationwide on April 1. A horrible joke? Alas, no. Rather, it is Wisconsin's gift to the world--these oddly shaped nuggets of young cheddar that are breaded, fried and stuffed popcorn-style into your waiting craw, don'tcha know.
Curds, you see, are the very best part of the cheese. Naturally created as part of the cheese-making process, curds are ugly little buggers that eventually get pressed into a nice, neat block of cheese then aged for a year or so to become nice, respectable cheddars and such.
Picked in their prime, however, curds are the essence of cheesiness: creamy and salty, with a Silly Putty-like consistency that makes a satisfying squeak between the teeth when bitten. Fried in batter, they become molten little blobs of supercheese that ooze and string tantalizingly between lips and fingers. Sexy, no?
The only dangerous bit about eating curds is the inconsistency of size. Because of their youthful nature, curds steadfastly refuse to conform to any uniform shape or size, and sometimes, well, they get a little obese. The fat ones (we really aren't being size-ist here) just don't fry up as well, so you get a nasty little cold bit in the middle where the cheese isn't melted. Yuck. I was the unfortunate recipient of one such preemie on my initial tasting, and regretted it immediately. These large ones are best pawned off on younger brothers and the like.
To be true to form, one typically dips curds in ranch sauce. Being a California transplant, I am unsatisfied with conformity. I tested my curds with ranch dressing (acceptable, but a bit salty), honey mustard sauce (the tang and slight sweetness beautifully offsets the salt and greasiness) and barbecue sauce (nice, but a bit heavy-handed with the delicate cheese). I later thought that perhaps the curds, which come in a nifty red box, would be nicely paired with a marinara sauce or even a lusty cranberry compote! Then again, we're talking about fried cheese, so honestly, if you make it out of the drive with more than half the box left, you're ahead of the game. Pairs well with root beer, naturally.
A convert? The restaurants are offering one lucky winner a year's worth of curds. Ya der hey! To find out more about the curds, and to play an oddly disturbing curd-squirting game, go to www.curdcrazy.com. A&W Restaurants are located in Windsor, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park and St. Helena.
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From the April 6-12, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.