Cheese curds Milwaukee
Alison BauterCheese curds. Can't live a healthy life with 'em, can't live a happy life without 'em.
While Milwaukee has any number of culinary treasures, it is rightly known for its curds. Whether you're a Wisconsin native weened on dairy or a visitor uninitiated in this regional delicacy, you'll appreciate this tour of Milwaukee's best spots. As all good guides to cheese curds should do, this offers a suggested drink pairing for each location.
First, for the out-of-towners, a quick primer: cheese curds are the solid parts of cultured milk - small clumps of dairy best eaten fresh and world-changing when breaded and fried. Naturally, boozey chasers are a must. We are in Wisconsin, after all.
1. Clock Shadow Creamery is Wisconsin's only urban cheese factory, nestled in the shadow (see what they did there?) of Milwaukee's iconic Allen-Bradley Clock Tower. Its "tour" is for the real process enthusiasts - not much to see, but plenty of information. The real beauty is its cheese shop, where you can buy arguably the freshest curds in town. Bite in, and then listen for the telltale "squeak" from the back of your jaw. That's how you know it's fresh.
Suggested pairing: Clock Shadow is just around the corner from Milwaukee Brewing Co., one of the city's best breweries and easily its most liberal sample provider during tours. As a bonus, newly opened Central Standard Craft Distillery shares a building with the brewery.
2. Uber Tap Room and Cheese Bar is where you transition to the dark side. The attached Wisconsin Cheese Mart provides freshly made curds, plus frozen bags that will last up to 48 hours, should you need to transport them across state lines. Cross over to the Uber Tap Room, and you find fried curds, served straight from the vat and so piping hot they sometimes string together. These are the real deal, covered in mealy spikes of beer batter and sprinkled with slightly spicy, house-made salt.
Suggested pairing: The Tap Room boasts one of Milwaukee's most varied and sumptuous local beer lists. In lieu of actually drinking everything on the menu, try a flight (or two).
3. Lakefront Brewery provides not only some of the tastiest fried curds in the city, but the most classic of Wisconsin entertainment - polka. Oh, and beer. Lots of beer. Like the Beer Hall Wheat Ale batter that coats these Clock Shadow white cheddar curds. The real coup, however, is the garlic ranch dipping sauce. Friday nights, you can pair your curds with a classic Wisconsin fish fry, polka away the calories on the dance floor, then regain them in Lakefront beer. Prost!
Suggested pairing: Self-explanatory, really. The tour here is highly recommended, both for the quality of the brews and its PG-13 entertainment value.
4. is relatively new to Milwaukee's restaurant scene, but feels like it's been here forever. Billed as a craft cocktail and sausage bar, you'll also find some seriously tasty curds on the menu. Dip them in Vanguard's bacon stein aioli, or smother them in veal onion gravy and maple syrup-braised duck over fries as poutine. Yes, you read that right.
Suggested pairing: Vanguard always keeps an excellent list of Wisconsin beers on tap, but bartenders also make a mean Old Fashioned, if you're in the mood. Order it with brandy, like a real Wisconsinite.
5. provides what a pretentious person would describe as a "deconstructed cheese curd, " and anyone else would just call "delicious." It's comprised of baked fontina spiked with spicy ranch flavor, delivered to your mouth via toasted focaccia.
Suggested pairing: Merriment Social makes a dangerous rum punch that comes as highly recommended as its carefully curated list of craft brews. Eat twice the "cheese curds" to soak that one up.
Bonus: Culver's might be a fast-food chain, but their frozen, fried curds cannot be argued with, especially not when they're backed up by a butter burger and frozen custard.