Curd is the Word

An internship is like a cheese curd for SCA's Ariel Lepito

ABOVE: Ariel teaches an environmental ed lesson to field tripping students.

During my internship at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, I haven’t just been living in an eco-friendly bubble of environmental education and brown-colored clothing. I am adjusting to a new place, the freedom (and responsibility) of buying my own groceries, and really getting to experience America’s dairyland first-hand.

Part of that experience is indulging in one of WI’s finest creations: Cheese.

Say cheese! Plain, jalapeño, Cajun, and pizza flavored curds* and salami, bacon, and taco infused hunks ‘o cheese. Who needs arteries anyway?

How did I know where to find this squeaky goodness you ask? Did a dairy fairy magically drop it down onto my lap one Tuesday morning? Well, sort of.

Something I have loved about working with visitor services here is that I am able to get to know many of the volunteers who spend time at the refuge. When I mentioned my recent discovery and near-addiction to cheese curds to Roger at the welcome desk, he knew just the place to go. The next week, he came back with a brown paper bag filled the cheese pictured above. I was ecstatic.

Ariel with Roger, gifter of cheese and refuge volunteer extraordinaire.

Starting off my summer with the FWS was, hear me out on this, sort of like biting into a cheese curd for the first time. I’ve had jobs (and cheese) before, and on paper I knew I would enjoy it. So as I took a bite out of my first curd and it squeaked (which I was not expecting), I also took a bite out of my internship and began educating children’s field trips in my first week (which I was definitely not expecting!). Both work and curd experiences were surprising and a little unsettling, but as time passed, I started to get more comfortable teaching and more creative with cheese. (Curd-a-dilla. Just try it.)

Necedah’s visitor center, where the bag of cheese and I first met… Oh, and where I work.

Throughout the summer, I’ve meet a myriad of people who have taught me about wildlife, the refuge, and even some basic Midwestern geography. I am grateful to be in a new and beautiful place, and even more grateful that the volunteers, staff, and my roommates have unofficially enrolled me in Wisco 101. The more I understand where I am geographically and culturally, the more I am able to connect with visitors and guide them to what they are excited about on the refuge – just like I was guided to the wonders of Wisconsin’s dairy products.

*For the non-Midwesterners like me out there: Cheese curds are the freshest form of cheddar cheese; they are kind of shaped like a peanut and squeak against your teeth when you chew them!