Thursday, April 15, 2010

My First Cheese Curd

The man who made the very first fresh cheese curd I ever ate will be honored next week as a Life Member of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

Cheesemaker Mike Moran runs Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese factory in tiny Rudolph, Wis. He began his career alongside his father in 1962, when the family bought the plant. Since then, Mike has grown the business into one of Wisconsin's most innovative manufacturing plants and probably the busiest retail cheese store you'll ever visit in a town of 423 people.

I first visited Mike's plant back in 1993, when I was dating the man who would eventually become my husband. On a weekend trip to meet his parents in Wisconsin Rapids, we made what I would discover was the obligatory Saturday morning jaunt to the nearby Rudolph cheese factory. The Morans are known for not only making some of the best cheddar, jack and co-jack in the state, but for making fresh cheese curds six or seven days a week.

Along with the giant pile of cheese we bought, my husband threw in a bag of fresh cheese curds - still warm from the vat, and we ate them in his car on the way home. Believe it or not - at the age of 21, it was the very first fresh cheese curd I had ever eaten. Warm, squeaky, clean, salty - I ate so many that I later threw up in his mother's bathroom (great way to make a first impression on the future in-laws, by the way).

Today, my in-laws run Ricky's Bar & Bowl in Rudolph just down the street from the Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese Factory, so needless to say, whenever we visit, we stop at the cheese factory first. Mike is almost always there, greeting customers, working the counter, scooping ice cream or managing the floor.

On a recent trip, my daughter and I were standing in front of the huge looking glass windows between the retail store and the cheese plant, and I was attempting to explain the cheese make process to my less-than-thrilled teenager. Mike must have seen me pointing and talking to Avery, trying to engage her in the process, so he promptly came out of the make room to greet us and say hello. He wanted to know if we had any questions.

My daughter explained to him that her lame mom was trying to tell her how cheese was made, but that he could probably do it better. So for the next 15 minutes, one of the busiest people at Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese explained to a 13-year-old how fresh milk is made into a cheese curd. And he did it with passion - like it was the first time he had ever told the story to anyone. We bought a lot of cheese that day, and my respect for Mr. Mike Moran grew to a new level.

Today, Mike is joined in the family business by his brother Dave, his son, John, and his daughter, Jill. Known for his modesty, Mike is known and respected across the Wisconsin dairy industry. In fact, in response to this award, his family penned this statement: "Mike is very passionate about his commitment to the dairy industry and strongly believes in continuing a tradition of excellence in the cheesemaking process."

Well said. Congrats to the Morans and Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese.

5 comments:

Bill Anderson said...

Cheese curds are another one of these only-in-Wisconsin things that just does not make sense to me. (And I grew up in this state)

Here's my question about cheese curds:

Why would you expend all the energy, resources, and time, to go to the trouble of making a cheese capable of aging for years (cheddar) and then eat this cheese when it is hours old?

If you want to make a cheese to be eaten in its fresh state, why not make an acid-curd cheese like a fromage blanc, chevre, mascarpone, or ricotta? It is far less resource and labor intensive than making cheddar, and it produces a more flavorful cheese.

This is a question which I don't have a good answer to.

Madame Fromage said...

This is a great story. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Mike's history...and yours.

Greg Long said...

Bill, I think it is because there is a high demand for cheese curds in Wisconsin and cheese makers need to make some money. Sure, aging something for 10 years is great, but sometimes they need some funds immediately.

Bill Anderson said...

Not disagreeing with you Greg about the need to turn around cheese fast. What I'm saying is that there a lot of fresh cheeses that are less labor and energy intensive to make than cheddar. If we want a fresh cheese to be sold immediately after it is made, why not make a ricotta, a fromage blanc, a mascarpone, or a chevre? Those are cheeses intended to be consumed in their fresh form.

The techniques for making cheddar were developed to make a cheese that was more durable, to transpot to distant markets and be shelf-stable. It is an energy and labor intensive process to make cheddar.

Fresh acid-coagulated cheeses are much less labor and energy intensive than cheddar to produce. Granted, they can't age for months and years, but that is not the point. They are meant to be eaten in their fresh state. Cheddar is not.

Erica said...

Curds are great! Love your blog. Check out my little Madison cheese blog if you get a chance!

http://cheeseajourney.blogspot.com