Chips, good. Cheese, good. Gravy, goooood.
November 11, 2008 9:30 PM   Subscribe

How can I create poutine... in Australia? What the heck are these "cheese curds" anyway?

I want to try poutine! Unfortunately the closest I've been to Canada in the past ten years was the Canadian Pavilion at Epcot Center. (We actually asked one of the Canuck workers there where we could get it, but she shamefully confessed they didn't serve it. GET ON THAT, DISNEY!) It looks simple enough to make, except for one thing: cheese curds. What the heck are those, and where do I get them in Australia? Do I have to make my own?

(For other confused non-Canadians, the cheese involved definitely doesn't look like cottage cheese; the picture on the page I linked has much bigger and drier-looking curds. I've never seen anything like that in Sydney.)

Also, I'll take any good tips/recipes you've got for the gravy...
posted by web-goddess to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Mozarella cut in cubes can kind of work. Curds are specially made by the cheesemakers -- if you like it, you could go sort of fancy -- think brie, camembert -- but I'd try mozarella first, since getting curds from Quebec is going to be kind of hard in Australia. You need good fries -- soft and brownish, sort of large (I'd say square, 7 mm by 7 mm in section) -- the opposite of McDonald fries here in Canada.

Poutine gravy I would want the stuff from Berthelet, which is used at my favorite poutine place in Quebec. It's dehydrated powder -- maybe you could source it?
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:48 PM on November 11, 2008

Cheese curds are tough to find when you're not near a cheesemaking center. They're literally the curd, the lumps of cheese that form in the whey during the processing, that instead of being pressed together into a mold to form a larger block of cheese are just skimmed out and sold as is, unaged. They're delicious, but only when they're very fresh (they squeak when you eat them!).

You can probably order them online and for poutine purposes, that might be okay, but they probably won't be as good for just snackin' on.
posted by padraigin at 9:51 PM on November 11, 2008

The wikipedia page is a reasonably good description of curds. You can get them at a small dairy I guess. I would suggest cheddar over mozzarella, but either will do. Shredding also works versus cubes. It's not exactly haute cuisine, no one will fine you for doing it wrong.
posted by GuyZero at 9:51 PM on November 11, 2008

Extremely mild/young cheese can substitute for cheese curds.
posted by milkrate at 10:01 PM on November 11, 2008

the important thing about cheese curds is that they only melt at a very high temperature and, when fresh, they're a bit sqeaky to bite into.

even in canada a lot of places will substitute mozzarella, but the texture is all wrong. roughly-crumbled halloumi, queso blanco, or even paneer (which can easily be made at home) are a good deal nearer to the mark.
posted by wreckingball at 10:25 PM on November 11, 2008

Response by poster: Hm. The best cheesemonger I know of in Sydney is Simon Johnson. I just sent an email to them through their feedback form to see if they can source anything domestic that's similar.

Paneer is a definite possibility to make at home. Thanks for the suggestions... Keep 'em coming!
posted by web-goddess at 11:09 PM on November 11, 2008

I'm Canadian, I eat more poutine than a reasonable person should, and I make it at home. Finally, a question I definitely can answer! For cheese, mozzarella is a great starter cheese if you can't find curds. I wouldn't try paneer, it has the wrong consistency, you want something that will get a bit gooey when it gets warm, not too gooey but not dry and hard either. White curds seem to be preferred to the orange ones but I feel that the orange ones would work just as well.
For gravy, beef gravy is the best. Something rich but not too salty, the cheese is salty, and you can always add more salt. If you're extra inclined, make a roast beef and use that gravy, thinning it if it's too thick for you. I always love it when places use actual gravy rather than packet stuff (one of my favourite pubs uses a thick, homemade turkey gravy - different but yummy nonetheless). The packet gravy will do, as will bovril gravy (though I find bovril crazy-salty).
The fries should be exactly as Monday described. Homemade fries are best, the freezer fries just don't have the right taste. Add the cheese then the gravy on top of the fries and enjoy! Mmmmm....gooey, fatty, goodness. Keep in mind, this is your poutine, make it however you want. I've had it with duck confit, brie, with a peppercorn red wine reduction, and I've had it out of a chip truck with hamburger bits in the gravy. Poutine is a variable thing and the secret is finding a combination that you love. Have fun experimenting!
posted by LunaticFringe at 6:22 AM on November 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

last time i was in tasmania, i went to the pyengana cheesemaking place near st. helens. whilst being shown around, we were given the opportunity to eat a little of the raw curd that much later becomes their unbelievably yummy cheddar.

the curd was incredibly good, and i kept going back and stuffing my face with it until i got dirty looks from the cheesemaker. if my memory serves me correctly, they were actually selling jars of the raw curd there too. it wasn't too expensive either. they've got no website, naturally. maybe you could give them a call and ask if they'll ship it? their number's (03) 6373 6157. best of luck.
posted by soi-disant at 7:59 AM on November 12, 2008

It is important to note that although cheese curds is the "right" way and my favorite way to eat poutine, it is very common to get poutine in a restaurant in Canada with mozza cubes or shredded cheddar or mozza. You will get a good idea of what poutine is like if you use mozza cubes.

BUT ... I do recommend trying to get some cheese curds. As suggested above, your best bet is a cheesemaker (cheese factory / fromagerie?). Even better, plan a trip to Quebec, where you can buy cheese curds at gas stations and cornerstores (d├ępanneur) Yum!!
posted by Gor-ella at 9:08 AM on November 12, 2008

The Montreal episode of No Reservations (first season I think) has Anthony Bourdain sampling a few variations of poutine. This is a good visual representation of what it should look like and I suggest watching it if you are able.

Focus on the classic though, which is really the only poutine you need.

When I make it at home, I just use frozen fries baked in the oven, but this is not ideal. I've been tempted to run to the corner burger stand to get some REAL home made fries but they would not be hot enough by the time I got them home. The fries and gravy need to be very hot when the dish is assembled. At first the plate will be MOLTEN and I use these moments to do a bit of gentle stirring to make sure things get evenly distributed.

I also tend to use the gravy left over from a roast beef dinner and of course, proper cheese curds. They sell them here in packages labelled as "Sqeakers" or just in generic packages from a local dairy.

Unfortunately, even in Manitoba, it is very hard to get good poutine. Basically any restaurant will have a version, including Burger King and KFC. The closest to good poutine I've had at a restaurant here was either from the chain New York Fries or from a couple of mom and pop restaurants in the french part of town.
posted by utsutsu at 9:09 AM on November 12, 2008

Response by poster: I just got off the phone with a cheese expert at Simon Johnson. Apparently NOBODY in their entire organization has ever heard of poutine OR cheese curd. He did think that something like haloumi might fit the bill.

Still looking...
posted by web-goddess at 8:51 PM on November 17, 2008

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