note: this is the second of a three-part series chronicling a recent romp around Green County in southwestern Wisconsin, aka “Baja Wisconsin” to my family
The gravel lot was filled with cars haphazardly parked. Flicks of the dairy cattle’s tails waved with the breeze as they happily munched their breakfast in the sun after a long night of rain. The hills, more sparkling green after the night’s storm, rolled across the countryside. Two older men in faded denim and mesh John Deere caps flagged us to a waiting spot. Inside the fans hummed as the employees bustled about filling orders for waiting patrons in the small, closet-like space.
“The Curd is the Word.”
T-shirts boasted the Decatur Dairy’s slogan as they danced in the breeze above row after row of bags filled with cheese curds. Muenster, Cheddar, Bleu Cheese, Buffalo, Garlic & Herb, Peppercorn Ranch, Wasabi, and on and on the labels read. Those in the know head to the dairy early to snatch up the freshest cheese curds – ones that squeak so loudly against your teeth you’d swear your companions could hear the symphony of squeaks muffled in your mouth. As hand cut wedges of cheese and bags of curds piled up against the counter, the cash register ticked along happily as the order total grew. Outside, we sat on the concrete against the stainless tanks filled high with fresh milk and munched on our treasures. Ah, a Wisconsin breakfast.
Bags of differing flavors were opened in the morning sun and we stretched and reached across one another, dipping our hands into the bags being offered to sample the noisy chunks of cheese. Heads nodded, accompanied by approvals of “yum” in between squeaky bites. Recipe ideas were tossed out as suggestions for savoring the cheesy bites. “Fried cheese curds,” someone said.
“Spotted Cow fried cheese curds!” I shouted, raising my arms in victory to the exclamations and grumbling stomach noises that met my proclamation. As the bags were sealed and stored away and the cars were packed with the morning’s treasures, I pondered my idea further and wondered how I could take the cheese curds to the next level of awesomeness.
Our travels around the country continued (see part 1) and by mid afternoon, we had made it to our final stop in New Glarus. After only a few quick minutes in the main shopping district in town, new shopping bags had joined the growing collection and were filled with sausages, smoked wieners, pastries, breads, fudge and a new cooler given those in the waiting cars were already filled to the brim. We steered away from town and headed up the hill to the waiting New Glarus Brewing Company.
The new hilltop facility bustled with activity as happy patrons milled around the gift shop, sampled brews in the brewhall or across the emerald lawn, and rang up their purchases in the well-stocked beer depot below the brewery. New Glarus is famous for their Spotted Cow – a fruity Wisconsin farmhouse ale and a perfect thirst quencher on a hot summer day. Spotted Cow is disappointingly NOT available outside of the state of Wisconsin (as is the case with all New Glarus brews). *boo*
That being said, it was 3:23 when we rolled into the bustling lot and with the brewery closing at 4:00, I had work to do. Wristbands containing sampling tickets were quickly purchased and as we stood in line in the brewhall, I contemplated which of the brews to try first. The clean white tap handles announced the names of the beers available to sample: Spotted Cow, Fat Squirrel, Moon Man, Totally Naked, Golden Ale, Stone Soup and Wisconsin Belgian Red. We sipped and sampled our way through our allotment and watched as the clouds rolled in overhead. Fearing either rain, the beer depot closing or both, we downed the last of our samples and headed into the store to buy up our treasures before the registers stopped chiming for the day.
As we drove off from the brewery, bottles tinkling happily in the back, the idea of the Spotted Cow fried cheese curds again came to mind. They’d be great on their own, no doubt about that. A zippy little dipping sauce and we’d have a happy snack (plus a mandatory trip to the gym). But I needed something that screamed “Wisconsin!!” Visions of double smoked bacon and fresh brats from the butcher danced in front of me. No, that wasn’t it… And suddenly, I knew. It must be a butter burger with Spotted Cow curds. The butter burger (now most frequently recognized as a Culver’s menu staple) originated in Wisconsin. What better way to pay homage to the beer and cheese gods than with a burger topped with butter and beer battered cheese curds?! Cardiologist needed, stat!
It’d be fairly easy to overwhelm with this burger, so I opted for simplicity when it came to the patty itself. A little Worcestershire, a dash or two of a mesquite seasoning, and a light crust of salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder were all I dared to add. Knowing this baby was destined for a pat of butter and a crown of fried cheese, what more do you really need? We sliced up a few tomatoes and a red onion for a little freshness and flavor and opted for the basic fixin’s of ketchup and mustard. Writing this now, I’m disappointed that I didn’t put a pickle on mine, as the brininess of the pickle would have helped to cut a little of the weight of the curds. I’ll let you make the call regarding pickles, but the burger as I made it had just the right amount of condiments. They contributed to the overall flavor without drowning out the beer battered curds.
A word to the wise regarding the curds – hot and fast is the way to go. A candy thermometer is a must-have. You want your oil temperature to be about 375 degrees – hot enough to fry the outside quickly without damaging the delicate shell keeping all of the oozy, melty cheese at bay. I wanted a lighter batter, so I opted for a tempura batter with equal parts rice flour and beer. As the cheese from my first curd oozed out of the batter into my hot oil, I found one coating wasn’t enough to contain the molten cheese. I quickly dipped the curds back into rice flour and dropped them back into the beer batter for a double coat and was happy with the results. The cheese stayed within the shell and the resulting batter still had the lighter crust I was after.
Now, if only I knew what to do with the rest of those cheese curds…
recipe: jb’s pour house
1 lb. 85% lean ground beef
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp. mesquite seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. cheddar cheese curds
1/2 c. plus 1/4 c. rice flour
1/2 c. Spotted Cow beer
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 beefsteak tomato, thinly sliced
Condiments of choice
Preheat a grill to medium high. Combine ground beef and Worcestershire sauce in a medium mixing bowl. Form beef into four patties. Sprinkle with a light dusting of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, onion powder and garlic powder. Flip burgers over and repeat on opposite side.
Reduce the heat to medium, and cook the burgers for 4-5 minutes on each side.
As burgers are grilling, fill a large wok, stockpot, or other deep pan about 1/4 full of canola oil. Using a candy thermometer, bring oil to 350 degrees. Combine cheddar curds and 1/4 rice flour in a small bowl. Toss to coat. Combine remaining rice flour and Spotted Cow in a medium bowl. Stir until flour is thoroughly incorporated. Dunk curds in batter, then coat again with rice flour (adding more flour as needed). Repeat with all curds. Once curds are coated in rice flour, dunk 4-5 at a time back into batter and carefully add to hot oil. Fry 2-3 minutes, watching closely to ensure cheese doesn’t seep out. Remove with a slotted spoon. Repeat with remaining curds. Curds can be prepared in advance and placed on a baking sheet and kept warm in a 200 degree oven for up to 15-20 minutes.
Remove burgers from grill and top with a pat of butter. Transfer the burgers to the buns. Top each burger with cheese curds, onion, tomato and condiments, as desired.
All content and photographs © 2010 jb’s pour house