Door County in Wisconsin is a very pretty place, a peninsula flanked by Green Bay to the west and Lake Michigan to the east. I went there for its picturesque lakes and shores, its majestic forests, but most of all, for the opportunity to eat deep-fried cheese curds.
Actually I am always looking for an excuse to eat deep-fried anything, and here was an opportunity to eat as much of it as I wanted under the auspices of learning a thing or two about Wisconsin culture.
I did not know that I would find my ideal deep-fried cheese curd at a pizzeria, nor would I have expected the pizzeria to feature fresh cheese curds on a very nice pie, with spinach and broccoli to boot.
But first things first. What exactly is a cheese curd?They are the coagulated milk, the very stuff of cheese, before the cheese has been formed into wheels and aged. And as even cheese curd novices might know, the fresher the curd, the more likely it is to emit a squeaking noise when chewed.
I'd never had a curd prior to my trip to Door County, but the texture won me over. It was like a mildly cheese-y piece of gum that you could eat. What fun!
I'd been eating deep-fried and fresh cheese curds for days before I reached the northern end of the peninsula, where you will find Wild Tomato Pizzeria and Grille in a little village called Fish Creek.
I had it on good authority that their deep-fried cheese curds there were some of the best in the state. So we ordered that, and also the Green and Gold Pizza (small $17.95, large $21.95), a pie dappled in yellow and green—the yellow owing to the cheese curds, the green from a mixture of spinach and broccoli.
In the beginning I was doubtful it could be good—in addition to the green and gold, it was topped with roasted chicken and bacon. You could even opt for ranch dipping to be served on the side. Now that just seemed like one overloaded, gimmick-y pie.
Oh, but it wasn't. This was a good pie—tart tomato sauce, a thin-bottomed crust with a puffy, slightly chewy cornicione, and a good amount of char on the crust all around. And the toppings just came together—zany but also complementary—the two meats, the creamy curds, and the two greens to balance out all that richness. It made me reconsider my usual feelings for pizza, which is that it's all about the crust, the sauce, the cheese. Everything else is just frills. But I guess if the frills are cheese curds, then that's a different story.
Best of all, Wild Tomato's deep-fried curds were as revelatory as can be. Whereas some deep-fried versions I'd tried were gluey on the inside, these curds retained some of their soft rubbery texture. And unlike most other versions, these were fried in a batter like that of tempura—light, crispy, not at all greasy. I was in deep-fried cheese curd heaven.
If I ever return to Door County, I'd go back to Wild Tomato and ask for my green and gold pizza with ranch dressing. Just to see.