Squeakers, anyone? Tempe shop has Arizona cheese curds - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Squeakers, anyone? Tempe shop has Arizona cheese curds

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Mandy Zajac writes and edits arts, entertainment and lifestyle content for the Get Out section of the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6818 or azajac@evtrib.com

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2012 5:45 pm | Updated: 9:36 am, Wed Aug 29, 2012.

Ever hear of “squeaky” cheese?

I hadn’t, until a visit last week to Tempe’s Milk ‘n’ More Store. The shop, which began as a private store for workers at the United Dairymen of Arizona milk plant, sells the stuff — also known as cheese curds.

“It’s cheddar cheese in its newest stage — it’s newborn baby cheddar,” says Denise Jorvig, who mans the shop with Donna Durivage and Maggie Driscoll.

Curds are made at the plant next door with fresh milk from more than 90 Arizona dairies, according to Frances Lechner, UDA’s member relations manager.

The milk, along with rennet, is thickened in 7,000-pound vats until solids (curds) begin to form. Workers separate the curds from the remaining liquid by hand, cutting, stirring, draining and stacking until the curds meet precise standards for temperature, density and acidity. Then they’re milled into peanut-size pieces and packaged under the Arizona Cheese Company label. The process takes about six hours.

They’re the only curds made in the Grand Canyon State.

“We’re trying to introduce (cheese curds) to Arizona, because a lot of folks don’t know what they are,” says Jorvig.

In fact, a cheese curd booth Milk ‘n’ More sponsored at a local festival attracted zero takers — at first.

“But as soon as we started handing out samples of them deep-fried, like a mozzarella stick, it was like ‘Oh! I want some of that,’ and people were lining up,” she says.

Deep-frying curds in beer batter is a popular choice. Lechner likes jalapeño-flecked curds melted on a tortilla, stirred into scrambled eggs or sprinkled atop hot chili.

“The fresher the cheese is when you eat it, the better it tastes, and this is the freshest form of cheese you can get,” says Jorvig. “It’s so new that it has a squeaky consistency to it — in fact, they call it squeaky cheese.”

Curds are made fresh at least once a week. The store occasionally sells out, particularly during snowbird season. Lechner says they’re a hot item on Super Bowl Sunday.

Though you can get Arizona Cheese Company curds other places — Superstition Ranch Markets, Sprouts Farmers Markets, Whole Foods Market and Costco — it’s worth a trip to the friendly little store, especially if you like to know where your food comes from.

Tall storage silos full of milk rise from the plant behind the shop, and tanker trucks carrying 53,000 pounds of milk come and go non-stop. Inside, you might run into a plant worker in a white coat and bump cap. And you’ll get to scope out a few dairy-related antiques, from the early-1900s De Laval cream separator to a Leonard Refrigerator Co. “Polar King” ice box.

If it’s not busy, Jorvig, Durivage or Driscoll — and perhaps a milk plant worker on break — will gladly talk dairy with you, from the Arizona families whose cows produce the milk to how butter is cut by machine. Photos at the cash register give customers a great excuse to ask about the process.

Milk ‘n’ More also sells block cheese, milk, European-style butter and 50-pound sacks of dry milk, which Jorvig says go to places as far away as Vietnam and Israel. All of the products are made in Tempe with no added hormones or artificial additives.

The Milk ‘n’ More Store is at 2008 S. Hardy Drive. Reach it at (480) 968-3992 or www.arizonacheese.com/milknmore.htm.

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