This morning I read an article by friend Jaipi Sixbear that sent me off on a bit of a hunt. It’s entitled Why I Miss Cheese Curd Made in Upstate New York. The name is pretty self-explanatory. The thing is, that squeaky, salty, fattening and horribly addictive cheese sounds an awful lot like something we eat here in Quebec, so I got to wondering if it wasn’t the same product – after all, Quebec does border New York State.
Cheese curds, or fromage en grains, are a favourite of my Dad’s. Unfortunately, Mom and Dad now live in British Columbia, and he can’t find the stuff in any of his local stores. Jaipi bemoaned the same problem, where she lives in Denver. Fellow AC contributor Rissa Watkins was able to find fresh cheese curds from the Arizona Dairy Council, so it got me thinking maybe there’s hope for Dad and Jaipi too!
What are Cheese Curds?
Simply put, cheese curds are a food that deserves to be on any cheese lover’s bucket list. As Jaipi says they are soft but solid, they are just salty enough that you can never get enough, and they squeak when you chew them. They are the ambrosia of snack foods!
Fromage en grains is a product of Quebec in the 1960’s – not nearly as long ago as I originally thought. Apparently this era saw a large surplus of milk in the province, and due to the large supply cheese makers began buying up extra milk at low cost. Needing to find a quick way to process the milk, they made an unripened cheese that could be produced without taking up extra space in their manufacturing facilities.
The process is the same as for making cheddar. The difference is, once the milk curdles the cheese is not pressed to draw out the whey. Instead, cheese curds are cut into small pieces and salted. The salt causes the pieces to curl up into their characteristically irregular shapes, and acts as a preservative which allows the cheese to be held at room temperature for up to a full day.
Cheese Curds: A Crucial Ingredient for Poutine!
Until a few years ago, poutine was relatively unknown outside of Quebec. A dish of french fries topped with melting cheese curds and brown gravy, it too is an addictive and fattening food. You can get it at chain restaurants all over now, but if fresh cheese curds aren’t available where you live, what you are eating at the local restaurant is likely quite different from the real thing.
One simply can’t make a proper poutine without fresh cheese curds.
Refrigerating Cheese Curds
Sources differ on this subject, but it is generally agreed that the best way to consume fresh cheese curds is at room temperature. Of course, this is true of a number of cheeses. The fact that cheese curds from Quebec (or upstate New York) are generally sold at room temperature does give the impression that the cheese should not be refrigerated, and indeed those who consume them cold will notice a difference in the taste and feel of the cheese.
This is likely due to the high moisture content of the cheese. The cheese is harder when cold, and loses some of its squeak when eaten that way. But never fear! According to the Squeaky Cheese company, operated in British Columbia by a Québecois, fresh cheese curds can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week. It will still melt just fine, for use in cooking.
And if you want that squeak when you chew, simply let it return to room temperature before consuming. Of course, a bag of curds once opened, rarely needs refrigeration because it gets gobbled up before you know what’s happened! I recommend always buying more than you intend to use (we double the quantity, as it’s very popular in our house!)
Finding Fresh Cheese Curds in the West
I looked around and was not able to find any vendors for poor Jaipi in Denver, but perhaps now she might be willing to try having some shipped from back east even if it does have to be refrigerated. Just warm it before eating, Jaipi!
As for my Dad, I am happy to report that I was infinitely more successful in locating fresh cheese curds for him. You will notice that I mentioned the Squeaky Cheese company above. This company is located in Kelowna, and distributes cheese curds each week to a number of stores in British Columbia. Now, I know Kelowna is a big trip for my parents, but I did discover that Squeaky Cheese is sold at the Quality Greens Farm Market, in Vernon – not so terribly far from my parents’ home.
So Dad, you really can have your cheese curds again without having to come all the way out to visit us! Of course, I’m only telling you this because I know you miss your Québecois foods. It is not an excuse to skip visits with your grandchildren!
“Le fromage” Squeaky Cheese
“Fromage en grains” Recettes du Québec
“‘Fromage en grains’ du Québec…” Mila Simic and Wolfgang Sourdeau (Six Bears)