Deep-Fried Cheese Curds for a Better Tomorrow

It’s been a while since I opined about cheese, so I have to get it out of my system. Just humor me. At least you don’t have to live with me like the Boffin does. He has to throw the stuff at me and run away to preserve himself from bodily harm.

This is me with cheese, only far less cute.  Photo courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/5258394114
This is me with cheese, only far less cute. Photo courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar. https://www.flickr.com/photos/tambako/5258394114

Living so close to Wisconsin means I have access to a wonder that is called fried cheese curds. The curd is a by-product of the cheesemaking process during the coagulation stage and are about the size of unshelled peanuts. When they are fresh, they should have a firm, rubbery texture and squeak when you bite down on them. It sounds off-putting when I describe them. However, dip those puppies in a batter, deep-fry them, serve with your favorite dipping sauce, and you can tell mozzarella sticks to piss off.

When we are too lazy to drive to Wisconsin, we can go down the road to Culver’s. Culver’s is a somewhat-national fast food chain out of Wisconsin whose flagship foods are their Butterburger (They put butter on the buns of their burgers. There are factions debating whether this is a good idea.), their frozen custard (Worth it.), and their fried cheese curds. I admit, their curds are not as good as the freshly battered kind you would find in an independent restaurant, but it works in a pinch when you are having a craving and are short on time. Another bonus is their kids’ meals. Along with a cup of frozen custard, Culver’s gives them tokens to save up for better quality items, like stuffed animals and playground balls, rather than plastic tat that will be rendered useless minutes after the meal.

One of the best parts of the United States is its regional cuisine, and one of the nice things about moving and traveling so much around the country is being able to taste it. In summary, it’s fried milk fat, and it’s fun to eat as a treat. What more can you ask for?

This British-American Life in the Kitchen: Glamorgan Sausages

Don’t get your hopes up, carnivores.  They may be called sausages, but there is not one gram of meat in any of them.  But that does not mean you will be deprived of deliciousness.

A glamorgan sausage is a croquette traditionally made of Caerphilly cheese, mustard, and leeks and coated with breadcrumbs.  A traditional dish of Wales, I wanted us to celebrate that part of the family’s heritage by making it. The surname of Clan Boffin is Welsh, but it isn’t Jones, the most popular one. I tell people to keep up with us, if they want to lower their standards.

I am going to bang on about cheese again because it is the most important component of the meal. Caerphilly is a fatty cow’s milk cheese named after the town in Wales in which it was sold. It melts well and has a nice tang at the end. If you look at a cross-section of it, you can see that it is dry in the middle, but creamy around the edge.

See the løveli layers!
                                                                           See the løveli layers!

So, for those of us in the States, how do we get a hold of this marvel? Well, I special ordered it through Whole Foods. It took four months to get here. And it can cost up to $30/lb.  (I got it down to $20/lb because it took so long.)

And you have every right to say, “Hell, no! The Caerphilly fell off your cracker!”

Fortunately, you can get domestic Caerphilly, if you live around my parts in Chicagoland, or you can easily substitute with any meltable cheese of your choice. You can combine cheeses like a sharp cheddar with Gruyere or mozzarella. Trader Joe’s has Collier’s Welsh cheddar.  If you just want to grab a bag of shredded stuff to make your life easier, go for it.

I wanted to make it as authentic as possible in my own weirdly anal middle-class way, OK?

Anyway, I used (stole) Felicity Cloake’s recipe from the Guardian and was quite pleased with the results.  It was quite simple to make.  There is no need to drag out the deep fat fryer or the chip pan.  And you get cheesy goodness in a different form than just ordering a pizza.

Yes, it always comes back to cheese.  Yes, I have issues.

Glamorgan Sausages (Vegetarian, Kosher Dairy)

(Makes 12)
4 oz or 100g butter
7 oz or 200g leeks, finely sliced (about 2 large ones UK or 2 medium ones US)
(More like blitzed in the food processor because I am lazy)
Nutmeg, to taste
12 oz or 340g fresh breadcrumbs
1 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
4 eggs, separated
1 tbsp English or Dijon mustard
(To head off British protest, English Mustard can be hard to find here. Dijon may have to do.)
12.5 oz or 350g caerphilly or cheese of your choice
4 tbsp milk
4 oz or 100g flour

Melt half the butter in a frying pan and sweat the leeks over a medium heat until well softened. Season well with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Mix 200g (7 oz) breadcrumbs with the thyme, and beat the egg yolks and mustard together. Crumble the cheese into the breadcrumb mixture and stir in the leeks, followed by the egg yolks and mustard. Season, mix well and add the milk.

Shape into twelve sausages and chill for half an hour. If you have made matzo balls before, you would know this trick. Dip your hands into water before shaping, so your hands don’t get sticky.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark four. Meanwhile, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Put the egg whites, flour and remaining breadcrumbs on separate plates, and roll each sausage in the flour, then whites, then breadcrumbs to coat.

Melt the remaining butter in the pan over a medium-high heat. When hot, add the sausages and cook until just golden on each side. Transfer to a baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes, until richly golden and softened. Serve immediately.

It goes well with a side salad, and your body will be crying for vegetables.  The Boffin was happy drinking a dry, hard cider with his meal.

I was going to take a picture, but I figured if you really wanted to see an image of someone’s dinner, you probably have a friend on Facebook or Instagram who could serve that function for you.  I felt like enough of a dork setting up blue wrapping paper backdrop to take a photo of a block of cheese earlier.

Mmm…cheese.

In Praise of Cheeses

I have heard a many complaints from Britons over the years about one particular type of food served over here in the grand old U.S. of A. That, my friends, is cheese. Let’s be fair; we don’t make the case for ourselves when we habitually spell cheese with a “z”.

“Try Lay’s Jalapeño Chocolate Cheez-ee Pork Rinds! They’re Kosher!”

However, I also think we are not given a fair shake in this department. Lots of Britons go to the mainstream tourist places and frequent the restaurants that most of the locals avoid because tourists eat there. They have these burgers covered with vulcanized, day-glo orange tar and come back wondering why we insist on putting things like that in our bodies. It’s the same in reverse when Americans go to London, find the worst possible touristy pub grub in places named The Wanker and Spittle, and come back to report how flavorless and drab the cuisine is. Not fair to either side, but par for the course, really.

Well, I am going to make the case for what we call American cheese. It has a very specific legal definition as a pasteurized processed cheese that is made up of a blend of different cheeses and does not include products like Velveeta, cheez in a spray can, Cheez Whiz, or anything like that. American cheese was made to be mild and to melt easily, so it is the ideal cheese for burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and cheese dogs, in other words perfect for fast food or the ball park concessions. OK, you can say it’s mediocre, mass-produced, holds no value as foodstuff, and is no substitute for the real thing. And you are right, but neither does Bird’s Custard Powder, so I think we are even on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now, not all American cheese is alike. This is the kind of American cheese I bring into my house because I recognize the ingredients.

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So you make your own food with ingredients you know. And having a mild cheese can enhance the flavor of the meat on a burger, if done right.

But enough about that. Believe it or not, we do make other cheeses over here, good cheeses, worthy cheeses. And I am not writing about one farm with an old goat and a cow (who just happen to be the proprietors).

The Boffin, The Sprog, and I have been fortunate to have lived in two places in close proximity to two of the main states associated with dairy. While we were living in the Boston metro, our vacations were spent in Vermont. Now that we are in Chicagoland, Wisconsin is a short drive away.

Now, I am married to Mr. “I bought my cheese at Harrod’s Food Hall while I was at university,” Mr. “I did my last year of university in France and stunk out the dorm with my sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees.” He cares deeply about his cheese. Sometimes I think he cares more about cheese than me. Nevertheless, this is a man who will happily eat domestic cheddar that has been aged for 10 years and does not pine for the corresponding namesake of his homeland. That says a lot.

Here are a couple of photos of the cheese section of my local supermarket to prove how far we have come. I apologize for the quality. The employees found me suspect and rushed me along. I guess they thought I was casing the joint for The Great Cheese Heist.

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These are just two of three high cases of the posh cheeses, and I did not take pictures of the low counters. I would estimate half the stock is domestic cheese. Regarding the U.K., you can still get some old favorites, if need be. Every so often, I indulge in a block of this…in one sitting.

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And the US is just starting to make their own distinctive kinds of cheese. An example I can give is Humboldt Fog by Cypress Grove Chevre in Arcata, CA. In the States, this is the one that is recommended to people when they are new to goat cheese because it is creamier and on the mild side. Our palates are changing over here, and there is more call for variety.

So, this is my travel tip. If you happen to be in the States, especially in a major metro area, instead of going to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, find a local grocery store that has the salad bar, hot food bar, sushi bar, coffee bar, biker bar etc. Those are the places that have the large cheese counters and bakeries too. Whole Foods is a national chain, but there are local stores that offer those services too. And depending what state you are in, you can get your wine or beer there. 1) You will have a variety food to choose from, not just the cheese. But try our cheese.  I think you will be pleasantly surprised.  2) You will be able to control your portion size and still get something nutritious. 3) Chances are, it will be easier on your wallet, at least by avoiding the whole tip conundrum. 4) It’s quick, if you are pressed for time.

Of course, what is on offer is going to depend heavily on where you are. I cannot guarantee that you will find a good Wisconsin Caerphilly in Paducah, Kentucky. But I know where to get great barbeque, and that is a different post.