OPINION COLUMNS

The mystery of cheese curds is revealed

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, September 3, 2016
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The Fella and I took a trip to Wisconsin this summer.

Wisconsin is the Badger State. I didn’t know that and wouldn’t have guessed it as we failed to spot a single badger. The Corn State I could believe – although I think that’s Iowa. The Silo State, the Cheese State, the Snow State or the Football State all would get my vote over the Badger State. But, they remain the Badger State despite my protests.

Joy Carrico

Joy Carrico

Wisconsin may not seem an obvious choice for a vacation but we had reasons. While we were brainstorming destinations, the Fella mentioned two places he’s always wanted to visit that are both in Wisconsin, a brewery and Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. The more I researched Wisconsin, the more intrigued I was by the Badger State.

In my research, I found out they would be having a hamburger festival while we were there and I was in. I wanted to go to the hamburger festival.

Day one turned out to be our only day in which we interacted with the cheese industry. Among the things that intrigued me about Wisconsin was cheese curds. I couldn’t really get a clear picture of what they were. We stopped at a cheese place the first day and they had samples of cheese curds. The lady was kind enough to explain to me what they are.

For your information, they are squeaky, rubbery pieces of cheese leavings that form in small, pebble-sized cheese ball things. This is not an exact quote. She was far more technical. By squeaky, I mean they squeaked when I ate them. I could hear it while chewing, like I was biting down on a squeeze toy.

Cheese curds are eaten plain or, more frequently, battered and fried. I tasted the un-battered, unfried version. It turns out I haven’t been missing anything. I do not anticipate overwhelming cravings for curds in my future.

We sampled other cheeses, thought they were great, bought a little for the road, and then never wanted to taste cheese again. We had about 800 chances to visit cheese farms and cheese factories and cheese shops on our trip around the Cheese State, but neither of us had any interest. We were surprised by our lack of cheese stamina.

The brewery tour came with a beer tasting. You couldn’t choose a tour without a tasting, you could just choose a tour with a small tasting glass or a tour with a big tasting glass. We got the small tasting glass.

The tour was interesting, but the tasting really was the best part. It is after all, the reason for the brewery in the first place. It was easy to get swept into the world of beer, and I found myself much more interested in that topic than ever before. I now know what a dopplebock is. I feel very knowledgeable.

Western Wisconsin was my favorite part of the state. We stayed in a town called Eau Claire, a beautiful town built on a river. This turned out not to be unusual. Everything in Wisconsin is near either a river or a lake or both. Eau Claire had lots of interesting things to discover, including a record store where the owner knew everything there was to know about music and was very friendly and helpful.

This also turned out not to be unusual – friendly people, I mean.

There was a lively music scene in Eau Claire that I would have liked to explore, but we had an agenda and needed to head back to the east. We did make a quick detour to Menomone, Wis., before leaving the west, mainly because we liked saying, “Menomone” over and over. It was on a river.

The hamburger festival was a dud. We just missed the parade, and the hot air balloons were nowhere to be seen. They came out at dawn and at night, apparently. So the only thing the hamburger festival consisted of was a line to buy hamburgers. Really, that was pretty much it.

There was going to be a hamburger eating contest later and a ketchup slide after that, but I couldn’t see myself sitting around for hours watching people eat hamburgers to wait for these thrilling events in which people would eat hamburgers and slide around in ketchup.

We were disappointed, but maybe our timing was wrong and we hit the festival lull. At any rate, I didn’t want a hamburger and neither did the Fella, so we took off.

Everyone was very friendly in Wisconsin. They were so extremely friendly that, on a friendliness scale, they had surpassed the highest level and had swung back around to a point bordering on rudeness. Nobody seemed to have anything better to do than to extensively chat with absolute strangers.

Even the TSA agents at the Milwaukee airport were friendly. I don’t mean friendly for TSA agents, but friendly by anyone’s standards. I wanted to film the TSA agents in Milwaukee and send them to the Dallas TSA agents to show them it was possible to keep the line moving smoothly without barking at everyone and causing psychological damage.

One more thing about the security area at the Milwaukee airport. As we were grabbing all the little pieces of everything we had to bag and/or remove and display for the agents to prove we weren’t up to something, we took our pile over to an open area. They had placed a sign over this area that read, “Recombobulation Area.” “I love Wisconsin for that sign alone,” I thought as I recombobulated my discombobulation.

It was not perfect there. I had the hardest time finding any kind of vegetables or decent salads. They seem to think that corn and iceberg lettuce are the only vegetables needed in life, oh, and french fries. They might also make an argument for beer as a vegetable. I could feel the scurvy coming on by the end of our trip (not really, but I was vegetable deficient).

The weather was great for us. It rained some, which we didn’t mind, and it was cool and breezy, which we were hoping for.

I have a rule when traveling. When I go to places with cooler climates than Texas (almost anywhere), I try very hard not to laugh when a local says something about the weather being too hot. After all, I’m sure my wimpy attitude toward winter cold would amuse a seasoned Midwesterner.

But I failed to keep my rule on one occasion. One sunny day the weather was at about 80 degrees when a saleslady commented to us, “Well, I’m sorry you’re not getting a break from the heat.” The laugh came out of me before I could stop it. I assured her we were getting a break from the heat. It was topping 100 back home at the time.

She said she was hot, and I’m sure she was. Texas summer heat is probably like Wisconsin winter cold in that you have to experience it to have any true idea of how overwhelming it is. Our sweet Wisconsinite probably never experienced a Texas summer so for her, it was really hot, while I had a jacket in the car in case I felt chilly.

Wisconsin was beautiful. Really beautiful. It had lots of open space and lots and lots of lakes – two great lakes, and many others that were, I guess, something less than great. We passed more corn fields, red barns and silos than we could count. We started measuring the prosperity of the farms by the size and number of their silos.

A typical comment might be, “Oh. They must be doing really well, they have five silos, and two of them are big blues.” We know nothing about silos, but we thought the blue ones looked fancier than the gray ones.

With such great weather, such beauty and such maniacally friendly people, I was thinking how nice it would be to live there, despite their lack of vegetables, when I noticed that the street numbers for the houses were on posts at least 4 feet above the ground. It was summer, I reminded myself. Winter in Wisconsin is a different experience. I can’t live anywhere where the street numbers must, as a matter of course, be 4 feet above the ground to accommodate the usual amount of snow.

“What about Lambeau Field and the Packers?” I hear you asking. That is a subject that warrants its own column, so stay tuned.

Joy Carrico is a graphic artist for the Messenger. She needs more recombobulation areas in her life.

One Response to “The mystery of cheese curds is revealed”

  1. We were on a cruise, recently, that included Quebec City – so you need to try their poutine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poutine (don’t know if they are available locally?)!~

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