Cheese curds are to Wisconsin what Key Lime Pie is to Key West, crabs to Maine, pastrami to New York City and smoky barbecue to Texas. No matter where you trek throughout the state, there’s a good chance curds will top a menu.

Cheese curds are a by-product of the cheese-making process. Most often you will find they are cheddar, but they can be any kind of cheese. rubbery, salty, squeaky … these are all great traits of a delicious cheese curd! Connoisseurs will prefer their curds to be served at room temperature or even slightly warmer. Every cheese shop or grocery store in Wisconsin will have cheese curds, however, the key is to find fresh ones for maximum enjoyment!

In Wisconsin we are proud of our deep-frying ingenuity (after all, we did tout our deep fried clumps of butter at the state fair in 2011), and so it was only a matter of time before our beloved cheese curd met a deep fryer creating an even more amazing delicacy!

In 2013, USA Today conducted a poll to discover the best regional foods in America. Our Wisconsin deep-fried cheese curd ranked third, only to be topped by Maryland crabs (second) and a green chile sauce from Albuquerque (first).

Many restaurants and bars claim to have perfected the simple marriage of the two — breading and cheese — concocting creative batters with Wisconsin beer and varying degrees of “crust.” However, all are not equal! The end result is dependent on several key steps. And don’t be afraid to ask a few questions!

  • Are they made from fresh, local cheese? (We recommend no older than two days.) you can measure this on the distance of the cheese stretch (from mouth to fingers) and by the melty, fluffy quality of cheese.
  • Are they lightly battered and hand dipped? the best curds have a simple, crispy crust, accentuating the curd without detracting from the main ingredient.
  • What kind of condiment? Ranch is the classic choice, but many restaurants are getting creative — serving side sauces from smoked paprika to garlic aioli, dill tartar to sriracha ranch.
  • How greasy are they? There is such a thing as too greasy.

While restaurants and bars across the state claim to have the best cheese curds, here are a few we consider to be tops.

The Old Fashioned, Madison

A consistent fan favorite on many lists. they nail it with a light batter, fresh curd and a variety of creative condiments from which to choose. not to mention you’re sure to get another great Wisconsin staple — the old fashioned.

Water Street Brewery, Milwaukee & Delafield

Small, tasty nuggets enveloped by an addictive salty crust. yum.

Craftsman Table & Tap, Middleton

Another artfully done curd. these Carr valley cheese curds are fried in a light tempura batter and paired with a thin ranch sauce to accentuate the curd. Well done.

Fill Inn Station, Chippewa Falls

These daily-fresh, hand-battered in local Leinenkugels beer curds have Wisconsin written all over them.

Rocky’s Supper Club, Stoddard

Enjoy a short drive south of La Crosse along the Great river road to find these freshly dipped curds.

Horse & Plow, Kohler

Situated in the American Club, this fine dining establishment shows that even curds are important enough to be on their menu. and they do it right.

Minocqua Brewing Co., Minocqua

Fresh beer and curds overlooking Lake Minocqua. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Titletown Brewing, Green Bay

White cheddar curds served with a side of marinara sauce are a perfect complement to a cold Canadeo Gold.

The Curd Girl Food Truck, Madison

This girl is known for her curds that have a deliciously thin, crispy batter and stretchy cheese.

Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee

With curds from local Clock Shadow Creamery, hand dipped in a batter using the brewery’s Beer Hall Wheat Ale and then served with house-made ranch dipping sauce, you can’t go wrong here!

So, when in Wisconsin, do as the Wisconsinites do … eat only the best curd and then go home and have a salad for dinner (with vinaigrette dressing).

This article originally appeared in the 2015 fall/winter issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article. 

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