I can’t remember the first time I had butter, a glass of orange juice, or even broccoli.  “Food firsts”—as I like to call them—are common place when we’re young enough to forget them, but become few and far between as we grow up.  So how do you keep exposing yourself to new foods if you aren’t traveling the world?  I got lucky.

After receiving an offer to intern at Organic Valley this summer, my best friend and I packed up her Honda

Courtesy of "Funky Feather Farm," http://funkyfeatherfarm.com/

Courtesy of “Funky Feather Farm,” http://funkyfeatherfarm.com/

Civic in Massachusetts and drove seventeen hours to Wisconsin: home of all things dairy and most importantly…cheese curds!

I will never forget my first cheese curd—fried to perfection at “Butterfest” in Sparta, Wisconsin.   I watched a never-ending parade of waving royalties, while slowly consuming the warm and crisp tater-tot-like curd and wondering how the heck French fries became America’s default fried side.

A few weeks later, my curd curiosity brought me to a cheese factory down the road where I had my first fresh curds. For those of you who unfamiliar with curds, a fresh cheese curd actively engages all five senses; they squeak as you eat them!

"Wisconsin Cheese Curds," http://www.thenibble.com/

“Wisconsin Cheese Curds,” http://www.thenibble.com/

A curd is born after whey and milk solids are separated or “cut” and the curds have been salted and hopped.  The protein Rennet eventually forms very long protein chains within each curd.  When these coagulated protein strands rub against your teeth you can hear a “squeak!”  However, these strands are easily denatured by changes in environment, so a curd will only stay fresh for twelve hours (although refrigerating then microwaving may renew squeak!).  In short, cheese curds are more labor intensive and time sensitive than frying potatoes.

While I won’t be bringing squeaky curds back to Massachusetts, I am continually amazed at how diverse the food culture is within our nation’s borders.  It just takes some curiosity and endless commitment from the farmers, cheese makers, milk haulers, etc. who work tirelessly to bring fresh, delicious (and organic!) food to the rest of us.

Click embedded links for more information on how cheese curds are made and cheese curd recipes!