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Search for dry curd cottage cheese leads to farmer-owned Westby Cooperative Dairy

Katie Pinke explained how a farmer-owned cooperative in Wisconsin helped avert a crisis of finding dry curd cottage cheese to make cheese buttons.

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In her search for dry curd cottage cheese to make a family recipe of cheese buttons, Katie Pinke discovered a farmer-owned dairy cooperative in Westby, Wisconsin would ship 4 lb. pails of the hard to find cheese direct to her home.
Katie Pinke / Agweek
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Where to buy dry curd cottage cheese became a family crisis recently. Farmer-owned Westby Cooperative Dairy of Westby, Wisconsin, rescued us from missing out on my mother-in-law’s cheese buttons.

“I can’t find dry curd cottage cheese anywhere,” said my mother-in-law, Carol, on a recent Sunday as we ate knoephla at her and my father-in-law’s home.

If you’re not familiar with heritage German-Russian cooking on the prairie, these terms may be odd to you. For those who were raised with a lot of dough, cream, butter and cheese recipes, you understand. And this time of year, as families gather more frequently around the holidays, my kids ask more than usual for favorite recipes from their Nana’s kitchen.

Cheese buttons are top of the list of favorite family recipes.

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Cheese buttons or kase knepfla are noodle dough filled with a mixture of dry curd cottage cheese, onions and spices, a German heritage family recipe for many in the upper Midwest. Pictured are cheese buttons enjoyed by the Pinke family.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

What is a cheese button? Kase knepfla is the heritage recipe name. A thinly rolled dough is used to make a square or round noodle pocket, which is filled with a mixture of dry curd cottage cheese, onions and spices, then boiled and finished by browning in butter. Google shared this recipe with me: goodfoodandtreasuredmemories.com/wp/recipe/kase-knepfla-cheese-buttons .

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Think of a cheese button like a pierogi or even ravioli — but better, I’d argue. Google a recipe and you’ll find different versions.

Carol tops her cheese buttons with buttered bread crumbs and serves them with sausage, always a family favorite. I’ve never made cheese buttons, but my 15-year-old daughter Elizabeth has learned the art with her Nana Carol. She cares deeply about learning to carry on family recipes, as do I.

If I am not making the cheese buttons, I can at least be a supplier of dry curd cottage cheese, I thought as Carol explained how local grocery stores didn’t have dry curd cottage cheese or even know about it. My husband had tried the local south-central North Dakota grocery store where the traditional German-Russian cooks most often buy it, and it was sold out.

I researched a bit on if we should make our own dry curd, also known as farmer or bakers cheese, which is the solid portions or curds after milk has been cultured. No, I decided there has to been a supplier in the Midwest for the cheese button cooks of the prairie.

By Sunday afternoon, I identified Westby Cooperative Creamery in Westby, Wisconsin, as our dry curd source. For a minute, I considered asking a Wisconsin family member to drive more than an hour to bring it home for the holidays. Westby’s website said that due to the demand for dry curd , you cannot order it online like their other cheese products. You must call. I called, left a message, and filled out the form on their website.

By Monday morning, my contact form had a return message from a marketing employee saying someone from the cooperative would be calling to take my order. The same day after noon, a Westby cheese store employee called and explained the dry curd for the week was already sold but they could sell me an order from next week’s batch. They sell 4 pound pails of dry curd, shipped in refrigerated boxes. She advised you can freeze the dry curd for up to nine months. I ordered five pails — 20 pounds — of dry curd and texted one local friend whose mother I know would also be happy to cook with a 4 pound pail of dry curd.

I also asked the Westby employee by phone, "How do your buyers of dry curd use it?"

With a joyful chuckle, she said, "For cheese buttons!" I laughed, knowing others already had discovered my newfound source of dry curd cottage cheese.

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The next week, the Westby Cooperative Creamery box arrived while my father-in-law Eldon was at our home. My total shipping cost was $32, far less expensive than a drive to Westby, Wisconsin. I sent him home with four pails of dry curd for Carol. I sent another pail home with a friend to share with her German-cooking mom. I still haven’t made a cheese button, but I know where to buy dry curd cottage cheese thanks to a farmer-owned dairy cooperative in Wisconsin.

Sunday suppers from Carol’s kitchen are a family routine we’ve established. This Sunday, our son will be home from Arizona on a semester break, and we’ll all enjoy the cheese buttons together across three generations.

Thank you to those who carry on heritage recipes passed down through generations, and to a farmer-owned dairy cooperative for helping our family enjoy cheese buttons

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

Related Topics: PINKE POSTRURAL LIFE
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