(WKOW) -- Whether you like them squeaky or fried, cheese curds are a Wisconsin staple. But the work that goes into getting that iconic squeak isn't as well known.
First, cheesemakers warm up a vat of milk and add a bacterial starter culture. This culture is what gives the curds their mild cheese flavor.
"It's unlike anything else because it's really not a cheese flavor yet," said Bill Hanson from Arena Cheese. "The culture develops the flavor. The culture of the cheese is so fresh, the culture hasn't had time to develop a cheese flavor."
After the culture comes rennet, which is a coagulant that causes milk proteins to aggregate and sticks together. This forms a mixture of soft curd and liquid whey.
This whole mixture is then cut into tiny pieces and pressed against the side walls to drain as much as possible.
Then the "cheddaring" begins. This process involved forming the cheese into large mats and then repeatedly cutting and stacking the mats to squeeze out additional whey and give the curd that distinct rubbery texture.
The cheese mats are then sent through the curd mill to be cut into bite-size pieces. Cheesemakers add in a little salt for flavor and then the curds are bagged up to be sold.
Now to the squeak. The curd is made up of tightly-woven protein mesh that's held together by calcium. When it rubs across the enamel of your teeth, it squeaks!
"It's a mouthfeel, it feels good in the mouth, and it gives you the sensation of that feel on your tongue, on your teeth," said Hanson. "It gives you a good feeling. And I always say, a good squeaky curd makes you happy!"
The squeak disappears with age, so to maintain that signature squeak, keep the curds at room temperature and eat them within a day or two!