Cheese curd has been enjoyed for centuries – in fact the ancient Romans enjoyed a dish called globuli, which is basically fried curds. The recipe consisted of dredging the curds in semolina flour, frying them in olive oil, then rolling them in honey. 21st century Canadians are obsessed with poutine, and while there are many twists on this tasty dish, the original poutine calls for curd.
A time-honoured tradition, curd-making truly is an art and Mark Erwin, the main cheese maker at Empire Cheese since 2008, is happy to walk us through the process. He explains the key ingredient is fresh, locally sourced milk. The five-hour process begins with the milk being added to a large vat. A culture with good activity and flavour is selected and added to the milk and the mixture is cooked slowly to about 37.7 °C, after which the whey is drained off. Next, several mechanical turns give the cheese its body. It then goes through a milling machine to cut the cheese into those long stringy pieces we all enjoy. Salt is added as the curd is stirred, then the curd is shoveled into a cart, ready for bagging.
In case you are wondering, Empire Cheese produces about 146,000 kgs – or 321,000 lbs – of curd annually!
Store manager Madison Simmons talks about the Saturday morning rush, when the curd is ready to be bagged and sold by 8:00 AM.
“There is nothing better than a bag of warm, salty, squeaky curd! We do make curd during the week, but Saturday is our early day and everyone knows it,”
she explains, adding “our curd comes in several flavours: plain (coloured and white), roasted garlic and red pepper, and plain garlic, and it is a healthy snack.”
If you can’t get to Campbellford, look for Empire Cheese products at your local shops and get ready to enjoy 151 years of tradition.