Thursday, September 5, 2013

State Fair Foods: Pronto Pups and Fried Cheese Curds

Since leaving Minnesota, I’ve found over the years that pronto pups and cheese curds are a real conversation starter. They come up every year around this time as our annual pilgrimage to the Minnesota State Fair approaches. By August each year, the excitement is almost intolerable and pretty much everyone I interact with leading up to the Fair hears about my trip. And let’s be honest, you (well, at least I) can’t really talk about the Fair without talking about the food. I know this about myself and have tried to exercise a lot of willpower this year to hold back. The other night in culinary class, it took all of my self control not to tell my chef instructor all about what I would be eating at the Fair instead of attending class. He’s a chef, surely he wants to hear about my culinary joys, right? No, I don’t think so.

Pup Toast 2013

When the subject of Fair food comes up, I always get lots of questions about pronto pups and cheese curds. Pronto pups are easy to “get” - they are like corn dogs only with a pancake batter rather than corn flour. They are not as bready and mealy and much better, in my opinion. They are made in front of you by teenagers who dip the hot dog on a stick into the batter and then place it on a carousel of prontos slowly spinning through the deep fryer. They are served piping hot off the carousel and painted with mustard and/or ketchup if you want it. They are best eaten pronto! I’ve actually seen corn dogs at other state and local fairs that have been pre-made (or even worse, frozen and then reheated) and are just sitting under a heat lamp waiting to be eaten. We wouldn’t settle for that at the Minnesota State Fair, but it’s a non-issue because the demand is so high that there’s no time for a pronto to be sitting anyway.

Cheese curds on the other hand are apparently more obscure. Some people have heard of them, but few have tried them. Reactions range from disgust - “You eat those?!?” - to curiosity - “What exactly is a curd?” - to excitement - “I am going to visit you in Minnesota just to try cheese curds! (you gotta love those friends!)”

Honestly, I’m always surprised when people aren’t enthusiastic about cheese curds. For the uninitiated, the word curd seems to be a put off. Others can’t imagine liking fried cheese (although how this is possible is beyond me). And some people just think it’s so weird and foreign that they have no idea what I’m talking about. So, let’s talk cheese curds because if you don’t already have them in your life, you’re missing out!

Let’s start with the curd. I realize it’s not the most appetizing word, but it’s also not gross, and I have a pretty sensitive gross meter. The curds are little nuggets of cheese that haven’t been pressed into a mold to form a block of cheese. They can be eaten fresh, and if you’re lucky they will be really fresh and squeek between your teeth, which according to the internet is caused by elongated protein strands rubbing against the enamel of your teeth.


When it comes to cheese curds, fresh is good, but fried is better! There’s a sentence for the ages. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, we like to dip our curds in batter and deep fry them. The result is a crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside, salty, greasy, tasty treat. They are terrible for you, but they taste great, especially with a cold Grainbelt sitting on the patio of the Ball Park Cafe on Underwood Street during the two greatest weeks of the year. It’s a once a year delicacy, and honestly, every year, I wake up the next morning wishing for more.

I’ve noticed that within the past ten years or so, you can get fried cheese curds at bars and diners throughout the year. I’ve never been too impressed with restaurant curds, and anyways, I like to save my cheese curd eating for the Fair. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and for me at least, I think cheese curds are best as a once a year thing. 


We always buy our cheese curds from the Mouth Trap (cute name, yes?) in the Food Building, but we wanted to make sure we weren’t missing out. We've tried the other options, but the unanimous conclusion amongst the taste testers (me, Rosie and Andrew) was that Mouth Trap is the best. Best at the Fair, and therefore, Best in the WORLD. If you ever have the chance to try them, do yourself a favor and order two baskets.

3 comments:

  1. I had squeaky cheese curds when I was in Madison for a wedding, so awesome! I can't wait to have them again, they definitely don't exist down here in AZ!

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  2. I want cheese curds again already. But, as I heard on the radio yesterday, State Fair 2014 is less than a year away!

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    Replies
    1. Me too! Honestly, I woke up the next morning already wanting some more.

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Hey, thank you!

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