It turns out that fried cheese curds have ancient origins.

Fried cheese curds are a beloved regional delicacy. If you’ve never tried these crunchy snacks, let’s get one thing straight. They’re a quintessentially Midwestern food created during the cheesemaking process. When milk curdles during the cheesemaking process, it forms chunks called curds. They can be eaten either scooped out of the cheesemaking vat or fried, and while the latter may seem relatively modern, it’s not: it dates back to ancient Rome.

It’s strange to think that even when we’re walking around a state fair enjoying a plate of fried cheese curds, we’re doing something very similar to what the ancient Romans did centuries ago, but it’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 its forms.

A version of cheesecake was served at the first Olympics in 776 BC, and there was even an ancient god of cheesemaking. His name was Aristaios, and he was also said to be responsible for teaching humans about beekeeping, honey making, and creating olive oil. It’s fitting: since globuli have honey and oil as their main ingredients, one could argue that the fried cheese curds were considered a gift from the gods.

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What was the ancient Roman dish known as Globuli?

fried cheese curds on a wooden board – Lauripatterson/Getty Images

How do we know that ancient Romans enjoyed 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 nobleman, novelist, and advisor to the famous Emperor Nero. When he wrote a scathing condemnation of the students of the time, he claimed (via Antiquity Now ) that they were pretty useless and that they “learned nothing but round balls of words sweetened with honey and everything said and done as if they were sprinkled with poppy seeds and sesame seeds.”

These were globuli, a very popular dish that we can recreate today. It is quite simple and simply involves preparing a mixture of cheese curds and semolina, then frying them and rolling them in honey. Globuli also survive in ancient recipes detailing their preparation, and it is not the only fried food that the Romans enjoyed.

The Greeks and Romans were also big fans of another food that will sound very familiar to those familiar with state fair cuisine: fried dough. The ancient Greeks and Romans used to fry strips of dough balls and then serve them with sweet accompaniments like honey or savory dips like fish sauce. And it was a very popular dish: Olympic winners were served these so-called “honey tokens,” and thankfully, we no longer need to win the Olympics to enjoy them today.

How did cheese curds become popular today?

fried cheese curds and ranch dressing

fried cheese curds and ranch dressing – Ifollowthe3way/Getty Images

Cheese curds can be difficult to source in some areas, as they only stay fresh for a few days at most. After that, they lose their signature squeak: As cheese ages, the molecules that cause the squeak when you bite into it begin to break down and lose their squeak. This makes them a regional delicacy that’s only available in areas with a large number of cheese-making factories, such as Wisconsin and the Midwest.

Midwesterners’ love of cheese curds dates back to the early 20th century, when thousands of Wisconsin cheese factories produced not only cheese but also curds. The state has long been known for producing high-end cheeses, and in addition to these ripened and finished cheeses, those who worked in the factories got the best curds—the ones that came straight from the curdling vats—and it didn’t take long for their popularity to spread. Factories began selling curds in addition to their cheese, and there was no turning back. There was still the problem of shipping fresh curds out of the region, though.

The state’s first master cheesemaker was certified in 1974, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that advances in packaging technology allowed cheese curds to be shipped beyond their long-standing borders. Their popularity is growing, proving that some things—notably the younger generation’s love of fried foods and aversion to them—span the centuries.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.

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