Forty-five minutes north of my home near Chicago is a magical land of beer, cheese, and bratwurst.

Okay, that’s a gross caricature of Wisconsin, but it does feel culturally and culinarily different the moment you cross the border north on Interstate-94.

The most notable landmark in Southeastern Wisconsin is a market/restaurant/delightful tourist trap called Mars Cheese Castle. Here, you’ll find food products not widely available 45 minutes to the south: New Glarus beers, novelty foam cheeseheads, artisan sausages, local Bloody Mary mixes. But what I’m really here for are fresh cheese curds.

Cheese curds, the squeaky nubs of curdled young cheese, are certainly not exclusive to Wisconsin. Perhaps you’ve had them on poutine! But any Badger State bar worth its salt will likely have fried cheese curds on the menu.

Fried cheese curds are exactly as they sound: Crispy, golden, beer batter–shellacked cheese nuggets verging on oozy. It’s an onion ring, only with cheese!

I desperately wanted to make this; unfortunately America’s Test Kitchen has yet to develop a recipe for fried cheese curds. That said, Cook’s Country’s recipe for pub-style fish and chips uses the beer batter I need. Not surprisingly, it worked like a charm. The cheese curds emerged from the hot oil crisp and magical.

Just to underscore the Wisconsiness of it all, I took a tablespoon of Bloody Mary mix and mixed it with my ketchup: Bloody Mary ketchup. Dipped with a crisp freshly fried cheese curd, it was bloody delicous

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