A wise man once said, “There is no finer comestible than a deep-fried cheese curd.”
That man was Parks & Recreation actor and native Midwesterner Nick Offerman, and he went on to channel his character Ron Swanson by saying, “I’m a peaceful man, but I’ll fistfight anyone who doesn’t agree with that comment.”
No disagreement here. In Wisconsin, cheese curds are a food group unto themselves.
Everyone here has their favorite curd maker – and soon, we’ll also have the world’s first Master.
“My mission was to bring cheese curds into the Master program,” says Steve Stettler, a third-generation cheesemaker and owner of Decatur Dairy in Brodhead, Wisconsin who’s already a Master of six different cheeses. “Why not have a Master certification for cheese curds in Wisconsin, right?”
Indeed, there’s nothing more Wisconsin than a fresh, squeaky cheese curd. The only reason these iconic chunks of cheesy goodness eluded the Masters program until now is because they tend to defy categorization: nearly all cheeses start as curds.
But making authentic Wisconsin cheese curds – the kind that have locals lining up outside their cheese factory of choice at dawn to get a fresh batch – is its own art. And Steve is on a mission to hold that art to the highest standards possible through the Master Cheesemaker program.
“Being a Master, you're just helping carry the torch of the strong cheese history we have here,” he says. “And Masters or no Masters, the passion for cheese is pretty high in Wisconsin.”
Here in Wisconsin, cheesemaking is more than food – it’s an art form, a vehicle for imagination, an opportunity to see what’s possible.
That’s why you see the world’s most creative cheeses coming from our fair state.
“When you go to Germany you're gonna get a Swiss, a brie, and a spread of some sort at breakfast,” says Steve, freshly back from touring cheese factories across Europe. “They're very good. But they're always the same.”
“The variety in Wisconsin is so much broader,” he continues. “If you come to a cheese table, you don't know what's going to be on it. There could be ten totally different cheeses. You could have Monterey Jack. You could have Colby, you could have Swiss, an Asiago or a BellaVitano. Then you go to string cheese. Cheese curds. And all made in Wisconsin.”
Steve’s own cheeses are a great example of the curd wizardry that makes Wisconsin so special.
Down in the shop at his idyllic factory nestled into the beauty of the Brodhead countryside, Steve serves up mouth-watering original creations like his namesake cheese, Stettler Swiss.
“Even people that don't like Swiss cheese will eat Stettler Swiss,” he says of this sweet, creamy, lacy take on the classic wheel. Steve’s cheese has racked up its share of awards, but if you really want to know how good it is, just try walking into his shop at 10AM on a Monday – that is, if you can get the door open.
The place is packed with locals fiending for a fix of his cheese curds, which come in muenster, blue and cheddar, with a wild array of flavored varieties from tomato bacon basil to buffalo. Steve says that while winning awards and mastering cheeses is a rush, there’s no better feeling as a cheesemaker than watching someone enjoy what you’ve made.
“It's the customer,” says Steve. “It's the guy that says you have the best cheese I've ever tasted. That's what makes it all worth it.”
Steve, you can count us as lifelong customers. All hail the curd nerd!