The Sandpoint Eater

Cheese stands alone

By Marcia Pilgeram
Reader Columnist

I’m back from my second road trip to Chicago in as many months. This time I had company: my daughter, Ryanne, and her 5-year-old daughter Fern. We’re still practicing stringent COVID-19 protocol, and though we stayed a couple of nights in carefully selected hotels, we always packed our meals and stopped primarily for fuel. However, traveling with a 5-year-old increased the frequency of our “other stops,” and it was there, at a Wisconsin state rest stop, that I found the ultimate vending machine. 

I was so slow returning to the car that Ryanne and Fern came back looking for me; there they saw me, lingering over a vending machine filled with nothing but varietal, five-ounce packages of Wisconsin cheese curds, including flavors such as taco, dill, ranch and cheddar. I was still examining the selections when I received the “daughter look” and departed with my limited selection.

Since we were trying to reach Chicago before nightfall, we passed up all the remaining cheese factory and cellar opportunities — though, I can’t lie, thoughts of those cheese curd vending machines carried me for the next 300 miles.

Before we knew it, the magical week of sister-time for my girls, surrounded by their little ones, came to an end. It was time to depart the Windy City and head west. As hard as I tried to act calm and composed, as we drove past miles and miles of pastoral dairy scenes, Ryanne knows me well: “Mom, I know you want to stop at the rest area for cheese, so go ahead and stop,” she said. 

We learned that not all the rest areas in Wisconsin are equipped with those cute-little bags of cheese vending machines. After three empty-handed attempts, I gave up and tried to make up for lost time on the freeway. I must have looked somewhat forlorn because at the next gas stop, when I eyed Woodman’s — a huge grocery store — Ryanne gave me the “go-get-your-damn curds” nod. With a promise to be quick, I was off!  

Woodman’s was bigger than a warehouse-box store, and with directions I made my way back to the dairy section where I came upon more cheese than I have ever seen under one roof. I could have spent an hour perusing the tempting selections and another hour loading a cart, but visions of Ryanne counting off the minutes brought me back to reality. I grabbed what I could — standard white and yellow cheddar curds — and then feeling the pressure of time, I grabbed a few hybrid curds, like Blood Mary, ghost-pepper and, for good measure, a package of goat cheese curds as I made my way back to checkout, where I dropped my massive armload of curds. 

The young lady bagging my curds was mightily impressed with the quantity of my bare-armed cache, and I was pleased when she assured me that I’d made great choices, including her favorite.

Luckily, I’d prepared and hauled lots of family-favorite foods to Casey and John, so a big empty cooler was more than ready for my two bags full of curds.  

Only a couple of times along the way did Ryanne mention the driving time we’d lost on my curd missions. She was also an outstanding sport when I tried to act very calmly about hauling a massive cooler into our hotel room for the night. 

The next day, driving past miles of North Dakota fields, bursting with bright sunflowers, I was curious about their purpose. Wondering aloud if they were for human consumption, she responded to my question with one of her own: “Mom, do you ever quit thinking about food?” Fair enough.

Luckily for those obsessed with cheese curds, you can find them right here in Sandpoint at the Litehouse Specialty Food Store on Second Avenue. Store manager Autumn Inman reports that among the most excellent curds in the U.S. (including Wisconsin), Litehouse cheesemaker Marvin’s cheddar curds took third place in 2019 at the American Cheese Society competition (I’m wondering if they need judges). Marvin makes 155 pounds of cheddar curds every other Monday, with a third of the batch going right across the street to The Hydra for their fried curd appetizer.

Nearly 20 years ago, Litehouse leased the Pend Oreille Cheese Company — and many of us are grateful they have continued the Beyer family tradition of making delicious — squeaky cheddar curds. Some of us are even card-carrying members (buy 10 bags and get one free). Though most curds are fried and eaten as a snack, or served as a staple in poutine, I like them cold in salad or as garnish for Bloody Marys. Or just by the squeaky handful, this is a cheese that stands alone.


Cheese curd and tomato saladserves 4

Cheese curd and tomato salad. Photo by Marcia Pilgeram.

Nice flavorful salad that can be served as a side or a stand-alone. For a heartier meal, add salami, green olives and artichokes. Use the freshest curds available. Serve with fresh baguette.



• 3 cups watercress, well rinsed and tough stems removed (Yokes almost always has fresh watercress)

• 1 lb heirloom cherry tomatoes 

• 1 cup thinly sliced red onion 

• 8 ounces fresh cheese curd


• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• 1 tsp Dijon mustard

• 1 tbs red wine vinegar

• 1 tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice

• 1/2 tsp sea salt

• 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

• 1/4 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil


•3 tablespoons chopped parsley



Place all vinaigrette ingredients (except oil) in a small bowl. Slowly add the oil, whisking, until it emulsifies.

On a platter, arrange the watercress, tomatoes and the onions. Sprinkle the cheese over the onions.

In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Drizzle salad with the vinaigrette, and top with the fresh parsley.

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