Cheese curds are a delicious ingredient used in many recipes like poutine.
Their fresh, mild, salty flavor and squeaky texture make cheese curds truly unique.
However, cheese curds can be difficult to find depending on where you live.
Luckily, there are several excellent substitutes for cheese curds that can still make your recipes tasty.
What Are Cheese Curds?
Before looking at substitutes, let's understand what cheese curds are. Cheese curds are a by-product of cheesemaking. They are made by curdling milk and separating the curds from the whey. The curds are then salted and can be eaten fresh or further aged into cheese.
Fresh cheese curds have a mild, milky flavor and a rubbery, squeaky texture. As they age, curds develop a sharper, more complex taste. Cheese curds are most often made from cheddar cheese but can also come from Colby, gouda, and other varieties.
Since cheese curds don't keep long, they need to be eaten within a few days for the best flavor and texture. This short shelf life is why cheese curds can be hard to find in stores. They also lack the firmness of aged cheese, giving them a softer bite.
Key Takeaway: Cheese curds are a fresh by-product of cheesemaking with a mild taste and squeaky texture. Their short shelf life makes them hard to find in stores.
Why Substitute for Cheese Curds?
There are a few key reasons you may need a substitute for cheese curds:
- Availability - Cheese curds have limited availability depending on your location. Not all grocery stores carry them.
- Shelf life - Even if you can find cheese curds, their freshness expires quickly. Substitutes can last longer in your fridge.
- Cost - Specialty cheese curds can be expensive. Substitutes made from common cheeses are more budget-friendly.
- Dietary restrictions - Some people can't have dairy or need a vegan cheese substitute.
- Flavor - Although tasty, some people find the mild flavor of curds too subtle. Substitutes can provide sharper, bolder tastes.
Using an appropriate substitute can help you enjoy curd-based recipes even when fresh curds aren't ideal or available.
Best Cheese to Substitute for Curds
Several types of cheese make excellent substitutes for curds in terms of flavor and texture. Here are the top options:
Fresh mozzarella is one of the best substitutes for cheese curds. It has a very similar soft, rubbery texture that is great for achieving that signature squeakiness. The mild, milky flavor of fresh mozzarella also closely mimics nice curds.
For the best results, use fresh mozzarella cut or torn into small, irregular pieces to resemble curds. Low-moisture or part-skim mozzarella tends to work better than very soft varieties. Baby mozzarella balls also make perfect curd substitutes as they are bite-sized already.
Mozzarella works especially well for poutine, deep-fried cheese curds, and anywhere you want that elastic fresh curd texture.
Since cheese curds are often cheddar byproducts, a good mild cheddar can substitute nicely. Young, medium, or white cheddars work best to match the mild flavor of fresh curds. Avoid very sharp aged cheddars.
As cheddar is firmer than curds, dice or shred the cheddar into small pieces before use. Try soaking the pieces briefly in warm milk or water to soften them up before cooking or serving. This can help achieve a texture closer to curds.
Mild cheddar is handy for baked curd recipes, salads, sandwiches, snacking, and more.
Large or small curd cottage cheese can mimic both the appearance and mild taste of fresh cheese curds. For poutine, drain the cottage cheese first to remove excess moisture.
Cottage cheese curds tend to be less squeaky than true cheese curds. But their bright, milky flavor and bouncy texture still make them a handy substitute in many dishes.
Ricotta cheese works wonderfully in place of curds. It has a similar fresh, milky taste and soft, crumbly texture. Make sure to drain excess whey from the ricotta to prevent a runny texture.
Mix in a pinch of salt to ricotta to better match the salty-sweetness of cheese curds. Ricotta curds work great in appetizers, salads, pasta, or even sweets like cheesecake.
Feta can substitute for cheese curds thanks to its crumbly texture and salty tang. Just beware that feta is much saltier and more acidic. Use nonsalted feta and don't add any extra salt to your dish.
Feta also has a stronger flavor. But it can fill in for curds nicely in uncooked preparations like salads, sandwiches, and snacking.
Paneer is a fresh Indian cheese with a mild, milky flavor and squeaky texture when fresh. It holds its shape during cooking. Be sure to buy fresh paneer and avoid any that is rubbery or dry.
Paneer can be cubed or crumbled into curd-sized pieces. It works well in curries, appetizers, sandwiches, and other cooked dishes in place of curds.
Key Takeaway: The best cheese substitutes for curds are mozzarella, cheddar, cottage cheese, ricotta, feta, and paneer. Each mimics the flavor and texture well.
Other Dairy Substitutes for Cheese Curds
If you can't eat cheese or want other options, several dairy products make surprisingly good substitutes:
- Full-fat Greek yogurt - Thick and tangy Greek yogurt can mimic the texture and mildness of cheese curds when well drained.
- Skyr - This Icelandic yogurt is even thicker than Greek yogurt, making it perfect for playing the part of curds.
- Labneh - Smooth strained yogurt cheese with a consistency similar to ricotta. Simply crumble into small curd pieces.
- Queso blanco - A fresh Mexican cheese with a crumbly texture that substitutes well for curds.
- Farmer's cheese - Similar to paneer, this fresh cheese has a mild taste and doesn't melt when cooked.
- Mascarpone - Sweet, rich Italian cream cheese that can work in dessert recipes needing curds.
These dairy alternatives provide a fresh, mild base to substitute for cheese curds in both sweet and savory recipes.
Vegan Substitutes for Cheese Curds
For vegetarian and vegan diets, several foods make surprisingly effective substitutes:
- Tofu - Blend soft silken tofu into a ricotta-like texture for using in place of curds.
- Cashew cheese - Soaked raw cashews blended into cheese recreate the fresh squeakiness.
- Coconut yogurt - Thick coconut yogurt can mimic the texture of curds when drained.
- Nutritional yeast - Gives cheesy flavor to nut-based or soy substitutes.
- Starches - Potato, tapioca, arrowroot, cornstarch, or rice flour help thicken and bind vegan substitutes.
- Agar or pectin - Used as gelling agents to help give firmness to nutritional yeast or blended soy/nut cheeses.
With creative mixing and seasoning, these vegan ingredients can produce great substitutes to replicate both the taste and texture of cheese curds.
How to Use Cheese Curd Substitutes
Using a proper substitute is key to success, but so is adjusting your method to suit the differences. Here are some tips:
- For salad or raw use, cut soft cheeses like mozzarella or ricotta into irregular, bite-sized pieces.
- To add firmness for cooking, chill cheese substitutes before adding them to a hot dish or batter.
- For fried cheese curds, coat pieces of mozzarella in milk then flour or panko breadcrumbs.
- In poutine, place cheddar or cottage cheese on top of the fries first, then hot gravy to melt/soften them.
- For more tangy flavor, combine a bold cheese like feta with a milder ricotta or cheddar substitute.
- For vegan recipes, allow blended nut cheeses to chill completely to help firm them up before baking.
What is the best cheese to use for poutine instead of curds?
For poutine, mild or white cheddar cut into small cubes makes one of the best substitutes for cheese curds. Mozzarella and cottage cheese also work well. Place the cheese pieces on top of the fries before adding hot gravy to get that melted curd texture.
Can I use halloumi instead of cheese curds?
Yes, halloumi makes a great substitute for cheese curds thanks to its delightfully squeaky texture when cooked. Make sure to cut the halloumi into bite-sized cubes first. The salty flavor of halloumi differs a bit from mild cheese curds but pairs deliciously with gravy dishes.
Is queso fresco a good substitute?
Queso fresco is an excellent substitute, as this fresh Mexican cheese shares the same bright, milky flavor of cheese curds. For the right texture, make sure to buy fresh, moist queso fresco and crumble it into small curd-like pieces before using in place of cheese curds. The crumbly texture when warmed is very close to melted cheese curds.
Can I use goat cheese instead of curds?
Yes, fresh goat cheese can substitute for cheese curds, as it has a similar crumbly texture, especially when warmed. Goat cheese tends to have a more tangy, pronounced flavor compared to the mildness of cheese curds. Use it in moderation combined with a milder cheese if you don't want the goat flavor to overpower.
Is yogurt or sour cream an acceptable substitute?
Full-fat Greek yogurt or sour cream can mimic the texture of cheese curds in certain recipes, though the flavor will be different. Remove excess moisture by straining first. The tangy flavor works best in savory dishes like poutine versus desserts. Overall, cheese makes the best substitution for both texture and taste.
Cheese curds are a one-of-a-kind ingredient valued for their unique texture and flavor. While you can't exactly replicate that experience, the substitutes we've covered come impressively close.
With a little creativity and the info provided, you can still enjoy your favorite curd-filled recipes. Mozzarella, cheddar, and cottage cheese tend to be the most readily available and authentic substitutes for cheese curds.