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What are Cheese Curds?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cheese curds are an important step in the cheesemaking process, as well as a standalone food in some parts of the world. They are small chunks of cheese solids that have been separated from the natural whey present in milk, but not yet pressed into molds to make cheese. Different treatments of the curds yield different end cheeses, and the curds can also be eaten straight. Curds, especially those from cheddar cheese, are very popular in the American Midwest in particular.

To make cheese, milk must first be curdled, usually with a combination of acid, rennet, and bacterial cultures. The curdling process coagulates the solids in the milk, yielding cheese curds swimming in whey. The whey is drained from the curds, which may also be cut to facilitate drainage, and then the curds can be salted, packed into molds, and turned into cheese. The finished cheese is typically aged to create a mature, rich cheese, which can be sold as soon as the aging process is complete.

Fresh curds have a mild, slightly milky flavor, and a characteristic “squeak” when eaten. The squeakiness makes them very popular among some consumers, as eating them feels slightly bizarre. Unfortunately, cheese curds rapidly lose their freshness, and they must be eaten very quickly or they will start to dry out and taste very salty, in addition to losing the squeak. Ultimately, they will taste like poorly handled young cheese, which is exactly what they are.

When they are fresh, cheese curds may be deep fried, sprinkled on top of foods, or served on appetizer platters for a special treat. Since they go bad very rapidly, it can be difficult to obtain them in an area that is not close to a major cheese manufacturer. Consumers can, of course, make their own by curdling milk, just as they can make their own cheeses. Once produced, the curds should ideally be eaten within 10 to 12 hours for optimal flavor, texture, and squeak.

The vast majority of cheese curds produced around the world are, of course, turned into cheeses, ranging from the “curds and whey” of soft cottage cheese to hard cheeses like Parmesan and Pecorino. Cheeses are an incredibly diverse group of food, so it is sort of amazing to ponder the fact that they all begin with humble squeaky curds.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon962374 — On Jul 23, 2014

Currently enjoying my cheese curds from Cuba Cheese Shoppe in Cuba, NY.

By sunshined — On Apr 29, 2012

Whenever I think of someone eating "curds and whey" I am reminded of the nursery rhyme about Little Miss Muffet.

Cottage cheese is one of my favorite foods and I have noticed a difference in the size of the curds from one brand to the next. For some reason, I prefer those that use the smaller curds.

I have never tried cheddar cheese curds though and I am not sure if I would like the taste of them or not. They do sound like they would taste better fried than just eating a big chunk of cheese.

By SarahSon — On Apr 28, 2012

I have seen mozzarella cheese curds in packages with other types of cheese at the grocery store. I have never bought any because I didn't know how to fix them or what they tasted like.

To me, they just looked like big chunks of mozzarella cheese that would taste good on a pizza. I didn't realize they had a "squeak" when they were eaten.

I love just about any kind of cheese and am tempted to try these the next time I see them at the store.

By julies — On Apr 27, 2012

I live in the Midwest and fried cheese curds are one of the things I look forward to eating every year at our state fair.

These are big pieces of cheddar cheese that are deep fried and they taste wonderful. They are greasy and soft, and the cheese melts in your mouth.

I know they aren't very good for you when you fry them like this, but I figure once a year isn't going to hurt me.

I saw these once on the menu at a restaurant and ordered them instead of french fries. I was disappointed because they didn't taste nearly as good as the cheese curds at the fair.

By starrynight — On Apr 26, 2012

You know, it sounds like you could probably make curd cheese at home. I'm not sure if this would be totally safe, or if there are specific procedures you would have to follow. But I bet it could be done.

All you need is milk and a few other items. I'm not sure what rennet is, but I imagine you could buy it off the Internet, along with the bacterial you would need. I know you can buy supplies to make yogurt online, so I don't see why cheese curds would be any different!

By JaneAir — On Apr 26, 2012

@JessicaLynn - I visited Wisconsin awhile ago and tried the famed "squeaky cheese." I have to say, I wasn't that impressed. I didn't really like the taste (I like aged cheese the best usually) and the squeaking of the cheese curd I was eating kind of weirded me out. I think I'll just stick to regular cheese from now on!

I'm kind of amazed they go bad so quickly after production. I mean, 10 to 12 hours isn't very much time to make the cheese and get it to a store. Not to mention then someone has to buy it and take it home.

I imagine if you get cheese curds from the store, you pretty much have to eat them within a few hours, after all is said and done.

By JessicaLynn — On Apr 25, 2012

I live on the east coast, and to my knowledge you can't buy cheese curds at any stores around here. This makes sense though, considering that cheese curds go bad very quickly. I don't live in a state that's known for producing cheese, so I imagine it would be hard to transport cheese curds here and sell them before they went back.

However, when I was in college I had a friend who was from Wisconsin, which is known for its cheese. Apparently cheese curds are very popular there, and you can get them in most stores. The locals refer to cheese curds as "squeaky cheese," which sounds really fun to me!

By myrlene — On Jan 21, 2009

How long can cheese curds be safely stored in the freezer? Are there any side effects from ingesting them after a long period of time in the freezer?

By anon24138 — On Jan 07, 2009

Interesting and informative. Thanks!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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