It Turns Out Fried Cheese Curds Have Ancient Origins

fried cheese curds on plate
fried cheese curds on plate - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Fried cheese curds are a beloved regional delight. If you've never had these poppable snacks, let's clear some things up. They're a quintessentially midwestern food created during the cheesemaking process. When milk curdles during cheesemaking, it forms chunks appropriately called curds. They can be eaten when plucked from the cheesemaking vat or deep-fried, and while the latter might seem relatively modern, it's not — it dates back to ancient Rome.

It's admittedly strange to think that even as we wander through a state fair enjoying a dish of fried cheese curds, we're doing something very similar to what ancient Romans were doing centuries ago, but that's pretty close to the truth. The Roman version of the dish was called globuli, and here's a fun fact: The ancient Greeks and Romans loved their cheese in all forms.

A version of cheesecake was served at the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C., and there was even an ancient god of cheesemaking. His name was Aristaios, and he was also said to be responsible for teaching humans how to keep bees, make honey, and also how to create olive oil. That's appropriate: As globuli has honey and oil as main ingredients, you could argue that fried cheese curds were thought to be a gift from the gods.

Read more: French Cooking Tricks You Need In Your Life

What Was The Ancient Roman Dish Known As Globuli?

fried cheese curds on wooden board
fried cheese curds on wooden board - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

How do we know that ancient Romans were enjoying fried cheese curds? For starters, they wrote about it. In addition to surviving recipes, we also have the writings of Petronius, a first-century Roman noble, novelist, and advisor to the notorious Emperor Nero. When he penned a scathing condemnation of the era's students, he claimed (via Antiquity Now) they were pretty useless and "learn[ed] nothing but honey-sweetened round globs of words and all things said and done as if sprinkled with poppy seed and sesame seed."

That was globuli, a wildly popular dish that we can recreate today. It's fairly straightforward and involves simply making a mixture of cheese curds and semolina, then frying them and rolling them in honey. Globuli also survives in ancient recipes detailing how it was made, and it's not the only fried food that Romans enjoyed.

They were also huge fans of another food that will sound very familiar to connoisseurs of state fair cuisine: Fried dough. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans were known to fry strips of balls of dough, then serve them alongside sweet sides like honey or more savory dips like fish sauce. And they were a huge deal: The winners of the Olympic games were served these so-called "honey tokens," and fortunately, we don't need to win the Olympics to enjoy them today.

How Did Cheese Curds Become Popular Today?

deep fried cheese curds and ranch dressing
deep fried cheese curds and ranch dressing - Ifollowthe3way/Getty Images

Sourcing cheese curds can still be difficult in some areas, as they only stay fresh -- at most -- for a few days. Beyond that, they lose their distinctive squeak: As the curds age, the molecules that cause the squeak when you bite into them start to break down and lose their squeakiness. That keeps them a regional delicacy only widely available in areas with many cheesemaking facilities, which means Wisconsin and the Midwest.

Midwesterners' love of cheese curds goes back to the early 20th century when thousands of Wisconsin cheese factories were churning out not only cheese but curds. The state has long been known for producing some top-of-the-line cheeses, and in addition to those aged and finished cheeses, those working at the factories got the very best curds — those right out of the curdling vats — and it wasn't long before their popularity spread. Factories started selling curds as well as their cheese, and there was no looking back. There was, however, still the problem of shipping fresh cheese curds outside of the area.

The state's first master cheesemaker for cheese curds was certified in 1974, but it wasn't until the 2000s that advances in packaging technologies allowed for the shipment of cheese curds beyond their longtime borders. Their popularity is rising, proving that some things — including a love of fried food and a dislike of the younger generation — span the centuries.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.