Jul 28, 2023

19 Best Dipping Sauces To Elevate Fried Cheese Curds

As summer begins winding down, it's natural to begin looking forward to fall time delights. But before pumpkin spice and spooky season kick in, the end of the summer signals an equally exciting time period — state and county fair season. From giants like the Minnesota and Texas State Fairs to teeny-tiny festivals deep in the boonies, fair season means thrilling carnival rides, baby farm animals, giant pumpkins, live music, and lots and lots of watch-your-waistline food. Bring on the mini donuts, fried cookie dough, foot-long hot dogs, and, of course, cheese curds.

Cheese curds can be made from many different types of cheese, but Wisconsin cheese curds — the squeaky, melt-in-your-mouth delicious style commonly found at state and county fairs — are usually made from cheddar. Created by splitting curds from whey during the cheese production process, cheese curds can be eaten plain, but are often breaded or battered and deep fried for extra crunch. While fried cheese curds' crispy, salty shells and creamy, tangy centers make them delicacies in and of themselves, the salt and fat content of each morsel can be a bit overwhelming. Enter dipping sauce. At a carnival, you're most likely to receive a ramekin of ranch dressing with your bucket of curds — which is perfectly acceptable, but why not try something more interesting? If you want to take your fried cheese curds to the next level, here's a smattering of dipping sauce ideas to try out.

Let's kick things off with the most traditional cheese curd dipping sauce. Made from a creamy base (buttermilk is most common), herbaceous spices like thyme, dill, or parsley, onion or garlic, and black pepper, ranch has been one of the most popular dressings in America since its invention in the 1950s. Its cooling, creamy properties make it a popular choice for cooling down spicy foods like hot wings, but honestly, people will pair it with just about any savory bite imaginable.

It might be basic, but plunging a sizzling-hot cheese curd into a container of milky, herbal ranch dressing is enough to make the angels sing. The pleasantly cool, creamy sauce perfectly balances the crispy, salty fried cheese curds in terms of both texture and flavor while the slight taste of herbs and black pepper in the ranch add some extra zing to the mix. Don't knock it till you try it — it's a classic pairing for a good reason.

We've long known that sweet jams and jellies pair well with certain cheeses. Fruit jellies like strawberry, apricot, and peach can take a charcuterie board to the next level, elevate a pastry-wrapped baked Brie, and act as the cherry (jam) on top of a cheesecake. What happens when you add a pinch of spice to that sweetness? Magic, that's what. Hot pepper jelly combines fruit and berry jellies with hot peppers for a beautifully balanced gelatinous spread packed with sweet heat.

If your only experience with cheese curds is dipping them in ranch, you're in for a real treat should you choose to shake things up with pepper jelly. When the two are combined, you're getting bursts of every type of flavor: salt, fat, and cream from the curds as well as sweetness, acid, and heat from the pepper jelly. Try out different flavors of pepper jelly (blueberry, orange, raspberry, etc.) to see which combination best tickles your taste buds.

Honey mustard's potential ranges far beyond dinner salads and McDonald's chicken nuggets. The sweet and funkily spicy sauce is typically made by combining honey and mustard (shocker, we know) with vinegar, spices, and occasionally lemon or lime juice for additional acidity. A variety of mustards can be used — French, Dijon, stone-ground, yellow, and more — so different dressings will have varying flavors depending on the mustard incorporated. However, for the most part, honey mustard has a sharp, almost horseradish-like spice tempered by the sweetness of honey and a vinegary tang.

As is the case with cheese curds and pepper jelly, the crispy curds benefit from sweet honey while the sharp taste of mustard delivers an unexpected zap to the palate. Enjoy the slight briny taste of vinegar while the curds' crunchy outer layer disintegrates and the creamy, molten cheese center oozes out. Perfection.

There's no way around it: Fried cheese curds are a heavy snack. They're packed with fat, carbs, and dairy. You might see a family waiting in line for the Ferris wheel struggling to polish off a plastic bucket overflowing with crispy curds and think, "I can take that down by myself in five minutes," but without any other flavors to offset the heaviness, you're likely entering a losing game.

Fresh herbs are one of the best ways to counterbalance salty, fatty foods, and bright, fresh pesto — a sauce made from basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice — delivers a soothing, herbal coolness to everything it touches. As a bonus, the best basil pesto has a bright green hue, which looks pretty cool when contrasted with the crispy golden skin of piping-hot fried cheese curds.

Blue cheese dressing is the funky, chunky sauce best known as the sidekick to crudité, buffalo wings, and Cobb salads, but it can be used to jazz up far more items than these — like deep-fried cheese curds, for example. We get it, cheese on cheese?! It might sound nuts, but hear us out. Made from blue cheese, a creamy sauce like mayo or sour cream, lemon juice, and a couple of spices, blue cheese dressing delivers a pungent, cheesy bite like ranch 2.0.

Yes, there's cheese involved in blue cheese dressing, but it's a totally different flavor profile than the cheddar commonly used in cheese curds. Blue cheese has bright, funky, earthy qualities that give it a bite similar to that of horseradish or mustard. Mayonnaise or yogurt and lemon juice help add a briny tang to the dressing that wonderfully complements the more delicate creaminess of the curds.

Marilyn Monroe once said "some like it hot," but given the tens of thousands (if not more) of hot sauces on the market today, it's safe to say "a whole lot of people like it hot." From industry giants like Crystal and Tabasco to the small-batch hot sauce your friend gives out every Christmas, hot sauces are available at every level of heat imaginable, from mild pepper sauce that adds just the tiniest kick to your wings, to the type that'll burn the skin off your tongue. Most fall somewhere in the middle.

If you're a hot sauce nut, you've got to try it with cheese curds. Drizzle a little onto the crunchy outer shell of the curd for a slight kick, or dip your fried morsel into a container of your favorite hot sauce for a more intense, immersive heat. If you're cool with double-dipping, try alternating bites with hot sauce and blue cheese or ranch for a mind-bending spicy and cool contrast.

Horseradish tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it ingredient. The root, which has been around since at least 1500 B.C., was originally used for medicinal purposes, but today is more commonly used to spruce up dinner. Raw horseradish has a unique, nippy spice to it, one that's discernable more in the nostrils than the tongue, kind of like wasabi. It's rarely eaten raw on its own, but its pungent flavor makes a fantastic addition to cream-based sauces.

Horseradish cream usually involves horseradish mixed with sour cream, yogurt, or another creamy sauce, herbs, and citrus for a boost, tempering the sharp horseradish root with a creme fraiche-like sauce. When paired with fried cheese curds, the bite of horseradish shines through and provides a unique, zippy, yet cooling sensation against the salt and fat of the curds.

Pomegranate molasses, made by extracting the juice of brilliant garnet pomegranate arils and allowing the juice to simmer until it's reduced by about 75%, has little in common with traditional molasses aside from consistency. Pomegranate molasses is rich and slightly sweet, but being derived primarily from the juice of pomegranate seeds, its overwhelming flavor is more tart and tangy with a hint of musk and sometimes citrus.

The thick, sticky syrup is a common addition to Middle Eastern dishes and pairs well with both sweet and savory recipes. Pomegranate molasses' tart, tangy taste is a fantastic way to take your fried cheese curds to the next level. Dip your curds directly into the syrup, or drizzle it over your container of cheese curds for a tasty and aesthetically pleasing effect.

Chimichurri is South America's answer to basil pesto. The bright, herbaceous sauce is traditionally made with parsley as the primary herb in the mix, but fresh chimichurri sauce can be made using just about any herbs taking up space in your produce drawer — cilantro, green onions, and oregano would all make tasty additions. Other ingredients in parsley-based chimichurri commonly include onions, garlic, a bit of vinegar for tang, olive oil, additional garden herbs, and salt and pepper.

Like basil pesto, chimichurri provides a clean, refreshing, somewhat peppery balance when paired with fried curds. The dynamic sauce is fantastic on its own, but could also be incorporated as part of a dipping sauce flight. Try a cheese curd with ranch, another with raspberry jam, and a third with chimichurri for a fun contrast.

Sweet, salty, umami-rich hoisin sauce plays a role in lots of Asian dishes. It's a hodgepodge of ingredients that sound somewhat counterintuitive (black bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, sesame oil, fish sauce, etc.). However, when mixed together, they're *chef's kiss*. Classic hoisin sauce is an ingredient in many dishes and marinades where it's combined with other ingredients, but it happens to make a great dipping sauce all on its own.

Something about cheese curds' crispy fried shell allows them to pair well with salty, sweet sauces and toppings. Hoisin sauce delivers an incredible flavor punch, and when a creamy, salty curd is dipped into the rich, sweet, and potent sauce, a strange, beautiful, and tasty magic happens. Contrast is king when it comes to pairing cheese curds with dipping sauces, and this particular combo has it going on in all the right ways.

Most of us think of tangy pulled pork sandwiches, sugary and smoky burnt ends, or perhaps McDonald's crispy chicken nuggets when it comes to barbecue sauce. Granted, these are all yummy ways to integrate BBQ sauce into a meal, but the sweet, tangy sauce has so much more to offer. There are lots of unexpected ways to use barbecue sauce, and using it as a dipping sauce for fried cheese curds is just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, BBQ sauce connoisseurs know that there are quite a few regional styles of BBQ across the U.S. and different types of sauce are traditionally served with each style. We recommend going for sweet, smoky, or vinegary sauces for optimal cheese curd pairing — consider dipping into Kansas City-style, North Carolina gold, or smoky Texas sauce for your curds. Alternatively, go with an Alabama white sauce, which shares quite a few similarities with ranch.

Move over, balsamic vinegar. Balsamic glaze, which is a reduction of pure balsamic vinegar, condenses all the rich, fruit-forward properties of balsamic vinegar into a sticky, flavor-packed sauce. Balsamic glaze carries similar notes to balsamic vinegar (often a complex mixture of molasses, prunes, figs, and chocolate), but each element is intensified in the glaze version of the popular dressing.

Balsamic glaze is a great choice of dipping sauce for cheese curds for a number of reasons. The rich, saccharine, and tangy sauce beautifully complements the salty, creamy, fatty elements of the curds. The syrupy consistency of balsamic glaze helps it cling to the curds' fried coating more easily than pure balsamic vinegar — vinegar may soak into the breading and imbue each bite with a briny tang, but its viscosity is too low to qualify it as an ideal coating.

Cheese curds are a well-known state and county fair offering all around the United States, but with the Midwest's penchant for all things dairy (Wisconsin, aka America's Dairyland, was the top state for cheese production in 2022, per Statista), fried cheese curds enjoy another level of celebrity in the region. Also popular with Midwesterners? Mayonnaise. It's mixed into chicken salad, slathered on sandwiches, plays a starring role in potato salad, and much, much more.

The Midwest has an unfair reputation for being drawn to bland, unseasoned foods. In reality, tastes vary across this group of states as much as anywhere else, but hey, mayonnaise maintains its crowd-pleasing status for a reason! Although pure mayo doesn't make a great dipping sauce on its own, spicy mayo is a popular condiment in many places — it's even served with sushi at some establishments. Dunk fried cheese curds into spicy mayo for a spicy, yet cooling, kick.

There are myriad types of chile paste on the market. Many countries and regions have their own unique versions, from harissa to gochujang — but give us a chili pepper paste endorsed by Giada De Laurentiis, and we're as good as sold. Giada's favorite is Calabrian chili paste, a smoky, spicy, and salty paste incorporating Italian Calabrian chile peppers, garlic, salt, and olive oil in its most basic form. It might sound simple, but Calabrian chiles have a hot and fresh flavor that stands out from other hot peppers.

Hopefully, by this point, you've already realized the benefits of giving fried cheese curds an upgrade with spicy sauces like hot sauce, horseradish cream, and pepper jelly, and Calabrian chili paste offers another way to do just that. As a bonus, Calabrian chiles have a bit of smoky flavor to them, which gives the creamy curds and fried coating a nice twist. Calabrian chili paste can be a bit thick, but the end result is well worth the textural challenge.

Au jus is so much more than just beef broth. Translated from French, "aus jus" literally means "with the juice" in English, and indeed, the aptly-named sauce is generally created by combining beef drippings (juice) with butter, wine, and a couple of other dealers' choice ingredients. It's perhaps best known as the go-to accompaniment for a French dip, but rich au jus has so much more to offer.

There are a couple of different ways to make fried cheese curds, some of which involve frying the curds with jalapeños or bacon, but most of the time, the curds are meat-free. If you're a meat eater, pairing fried curds with au jus can bring a satisfyingly beefy element to the cheese. Just be forewarned: Cheese curds are pretty rich on their own, and pairing them with a sauce as decadent as au jus is a lot, but it's also a true meaty, cheesy treat.

Hot honey hasn't always enjoyed the limelight, but as America's penchant for sweet and spicy foods has exploded, adding hot honey to dishes as diverse as sweet tea, cornbread, and pepperoni pizza is now in vogue. The recipe for hot honey can be as simple as allowing hot peppers to sit in warmed honey for a few days — that's all it takes for the sweet, syrupy honey to become infused with the smoky spice of the peppers.

Honey, in and of itself, is already a great choice for charcuterie boards, lending its sweetness to the salty, smoky, nutty ingredients one typically finds on a cheese platter. Why not take it a step further and test it out on some fried cheese curds? If the curds are hot enough, the hot honey will nearly caramelize on the crispy shell of the curds — and if not, you'll still be able to enjoy the effects of the sugary, spicy honey against the crunchy, breaded, cheesy curds.

What's your jam? Jellies and jams can be made from just about any fruit and berry on the planet. Whether we're talking about school lunchboxes packed with peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches, or artisan peach jam from the farmer's market, there's a jam out there for everyone. Jam varieties carry different flavors depending on the fruits they're created from, but most have an overarching sweet flavor.

Here's where raspberry jam is interesting. While there's definitely sweetness from the raspberries and sugar used to produce it, raspberries are so naturally tart that raspberry jam has a natural, face-puckering quality to it that other jams lack. It's this element that makes it an optimal jam to pair with fried cheese curds. You've got a crispy, fried shell plus salt from the curds' breading, along with the sweet and tart, slightly acidic flavors of raspberry jam. Bon appetit!

If you like lightly spicy salad dressings, you've got to try Russian dressing. Commonly used to add a kick to Reuben sandwiches, Russian dressing melds spicy horseradish and paprika with mayonnaise, ketchup or tomato sauce, Worcestershire, onion, and salt for a creamy, savory, and spicy delight. Ketchup lends a tomato-y, acidic bite to the mix, while horseradish imbues the sauce with its signature nostril-tingling, nippy flavor and mayo cools everything down.

A salad dressing aisle staple, Russian dressing is great for sandwiches and salads, but it's also a fantastic addition to cheese curds. The creamy base provides a refreshing break from the crispy, piping-hot curds, and the other ingredients blend together to offer plenty of vinegar and spice. It's a catch-all condiment and a great way to elevate your cheese curds.

You probably won't find miso-tahini sauce on grocery store shelves, let alone at a state fair, but this Tasting Table original recipe is the perfect way to spruce up the Culver's cheese curds you left in the bottom of your to-go bag at the drive-through. Don't be deterred by the exotic-sounding ingredient list; the vast majority of ingredients (mirin, rice vinegar, tahini, soy sauce, red miso, and more) are pretty easy to find in the international foods aisle at most grocery stores.

Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans which are subsequently combined with koji and salt. Overall, it has a tangy, salty flavor. Tahini is a sesame seed paste with a nutty and lightly smoky quality, and while combining these two elements might seem counterintuitive, miso-tahini sauce is bursting with flavor. Each element provides a unique, elevating quality to the deep-fried, creamy curds. Be sure to try this combo if you're a fan of fusion food.