What really is a cheese curd?

Coming back from youth group tonight, I realized I needed gas. The weather was awful, dark, cold, and drizzly, and the last thing I wanted was to stand out in the cold filling my tank. The alternative, however, was gassing up at 5:30 am tomorrow morning, and that was definitely even less pleasant. So I decided on a bribe: I’d go gas up if I would buy myself cheese curds. (Yeah, that sounds a little more weird in print than it did in my head an hour ago.)

Over the past week, I have had three different kinds of cheese curds. Yet I realized, I don’t really know what cheese cards are. Except…cheese. In curd form. 

This is how you make cheese curds: (I’m pulling this information from http://www.eatcurds.com/) 

To begin, a “starter culture” is added to milk along with rennet, a milk-clotting enzyme, which gives the milky substance a consistency similar to custard. The liquid (whey) is slowly separated from the solid (curd.) The whey and curd are heated and stirred till it reaches the desired temperature, where the whey is then drained leaving a giant bunch of curds (that looks kind of like popcorn.)   The giant bunch of curds are then cut up into smaller and smaller squares to continue draining the whey. The squares are then chopped into traditional “curd” sizes. The curds are then salted and packaged! 

I think what surprised me most about researching cheese curds was how specific the process is. I had some vague notion that curds must be an accidental part of the cheese making process, and that is why curds are only popular in the northern Midwest and Canada. Turns out, a lot goes in to making cheese curds the way they are! 

If you are wondering how cheese curds differ from normal cheese, I found this nifty answer on Quora:

In the cheesemaking process, the curds are placed in a mold and put under weight to drive the residual whey out and achieve a nice, tightly bonded wheel. Cheese curds are the loose particles or chunks of cheese that form after the curd is cut and drained, and before it is molded (or “hooped”)

One final piece of trivia from eatcurds.com, cheese curds squeak because:

The elastic protein strands in cheese curds rub against the enamel of your teeth and create the squeak. This characteristic sound of a curd is the sign of its freshness. After twelve hours or so, curds will begin to lose their squeak. After a couple of days, you can restore their squeak with a few seconds in the microwave.

(There you go, Bekah, your microwave trick is scientific) 

I hope you found this as enlightening as I did! 

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