Colby would be official Wisconsin cheese under bill

MADISON, Wis. — In cheese-obsessed Wisconsin, which proudly touts itself as America’s Dairyland, the dairy cow is the official domestic animal, milk is the official state beverage and cheese is the official dairy product.

But believe it or not, in a state that produces more cheese than any other at 3.4 billion pounds (1.5 billion kilograms) each year, there is no official state cheese.

A bipartisan bill being heard by a state Assembly committee on Wednesday would change that.

The measure makes colby, which was created in Wisconsin more than 100 years ago, the official cheese. Colby may be as “gouda” choice as any, but the choice threatens to turn fans of cheddar, swiss, provolone and all the other varieties red, or perhaps blue, in the face with rage.

Colby also holds a special place in Wisconsin cheese history. It was created in the central Wisconsin city of, you guessed it, Colby in 1885. Joseph Steinwand created the cheese and named it after the township where his father built northern Clark County’s first cheese factory, according to a state historical marker in the city located about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Wausau.

Colby isn’t the most produced cheese in Wisconsin. Mozzarella is tops, followed by cheddar and some Italian varieties, according to the USDA. Still, more than 45 million pounds (20 million kilograms) of colby is produced at Wisconsin’s 150 cheese plants each year.

For the unfamiliar, colby is generally thought of as a milder form of cheddar but has more texture and tastes sweeter.

The bill has been introduced several times, including in 2019, but never passed. It would have to clear the state Senate and Assembly, and be signed by Gov. Tony Evers, before becoming law.