Colby cheese

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Photo of cheese and crackers on a plate
Colby cheese with crackers
Other namesLonghorn
Country of originUnited States
TownColby, Wisconsin
Source of milkCows
Related media on Commons

Colby is a semihard orange cheese made from cow's milk. It is named after the city of Colby, Wisconsin, USA, where it was first developed in 1885 and quickly became popular.

Colby is manufactured in a similar process as cheddar cheese. Instead of the cheddaring process, the whey is partially drained after the curd is cooked, and cold water is added to decrease the temperature of the mixture. Traditionally, Colby has an open texture with irregular holes and is pressed into a cylindrical form called a longhorn. The washed-curd process results in a cheese with a mild flavor that is moister and softer than cheddar. Colby is typically used in snacks, sandwiches, and salads.

Derivatives include Colby-Jack, a marble cheese produced by mixing Colby and Monterey Jack curds, and Pinconning cheese, a style of Colby that was developed in Michigan. The city of Colby considers the cheese an important part of its history, and organizes an annual festival to promote Colby cheese, and several proposals in the Wisconsin state legislature have been made to designate Colby the official state cheese.


Oval black-and-white portrait of Steinwand
Joseph Steinwand c. 1918

In 1882, Ambrose and Susan Steinwand established a cheese factory near Colby, Wisconsin, on a 160-acre (65 ha) site they had purchased five years before. The Steinwands' son Joseph developed the cheese at the factory in 1885 when he was handling a batch of cheddar cheese and washed the curd with cold water.[1] Accounts differ on whether the creation was intentional. According to some sources, Joseph had attended a cheesemaking course and was specifically interested in developing a new type of cheese; according to others, he neglected to drain the excess moisture after adding cold water and accidentally discovered the result.[2][3] The resulting cheese, which was moister than cheddar, was named after the nearby city and quickly became popular because it did not involve the complicated cheddaring process.[2][4]

Photo of an old factory building with a fading sign that reads "Colby Cheese Factory"
Colby Cheese Factory building in 2012

By 1896, the family was producing US$3000 (equivalent to US$105,528 in 2022) worth of cheese each year. Though Ambrose and Joseph Steinwand have traditionally been credited for its development, historian Joan M. Jensen notes that cheesemaking at the time typically involved the entire family, including women who were often expert cheesemakers.[5] In 1898, the Colby Phonograph reported that "a merchant in Phillips gives as one of the 13 reasons why people should trade with him, that he sells the genuine Steinwand Colby Cheese."[6] The city of Colby has organized an annual festival in July, "Colby Cheese Days", to promote the cheese since 1965.[7][8] That same year, Lawrence Hoernke built a new Colby Cheese Factory on the site of the Steinwands' original factory; it produced about 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) of Colby a day until it shut down in 1983.[9]

Several proposals have been put forth to make Colby the official state cheese of Wisconsin and to add the designation to the Wisconsin Blue Book published by the state government. In 1998, the city of Colby adopted a resolution supporting the measure and the Wisconsin State Assembly voted 81–15 in support, but the bill was not voted on by the Senate. A similar measure was introduced in 2019, but did not receive a vote in either the Assembly or the Senate.[10] In 2021, the bill was introduced again in an Assembly committee by state representative Donna Rozar and state senator Kathy Bernier, with Joseph Steinwand's great-granddaughter speaking in support of the measure. Supporters of the bill said that it commemorates Wisconsin's dairy history, while critics argued that a special designation for Colby could undermine the sales of other cheeses, including cheddar and mozzarella, that are also produced in the state.[10][11]


A large cheese vat containing curds and whey
Cooking of curds in a cheese vat

The manufacturing process for Colby is similar to that of cheddar cheese, except that the mixture does not go through the cheddaring process.[12] Cow's milk that has been standardized to a protein–fat ratio of 0.96 undergoes pasteurization and is stored at 88 °F (31 °C) while the starter Lactococcus lactis (subspecies lactis and/or cremoris) is added. After an hour, 2.4 US fl oz (70 ml) of annatto, a coloring agent, and 6.4 US fl oz (190 ml) of diluted rennet are added per 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) of milk.[13][14] The mixture is left to set for 15 to 30 minutes. The curd is then cut and cooked at 102 °F (39 °C) until the pH of the whey is about 6.2 to 6.3.[13]

Next, instead of draining all of the whey and cheddaring the remaining curds, only about two-thirds of the whey is drained until the curds break the surface.[12][13] Cold water is added until the temperature of the mixture is about 81 °F (27 °C); increasing this temperature slightly produces a cheese that is less moist.[12] After washing with the cold water for 15 minutes, the mixture is fully drained and salt is added to the curd. The curd is placed into molds that press it at 10 to 20 psi (69 to 138 kPa) for 16 to 18 hours.[13] It is then packaged and ripened for 2 to 3 months at 37 to 39 °F (3 to 4 °C).[15] This process produces 22 to 24 lb (10 to 11 kg) of cheese per 220 lb (100 kg) of milk.[13] Monterey Jack has a similar manufacturing process, with the difference of allowing the curd to sit after draining the whey until it reaches a pH of 5.3.[16] Colby is traditionally pressed into a cylindrical form that is 13 in (33 cm) long with a diameter of 3.9 to 5.9 in (10 to 15 cm). In this form, it is also known as a "longhorn". The cheese can also be pressed into a rectangular form with smaller rectangles or half-moon shapes cut from it.[17]

In its annual report on the dairy industry, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) groups together "other American varieties" of cheese, including Colby, Monterey Jack, and other washed- and stirred-curd varieties. In 2020, the USDA reported that the United States produced 1.5 billion lb (0.68 billion kg) of these cheeses at 144 plants. Wisconsin was the leading state with 320 million lb (150 million kg) produced at 44 plants, and California produced 286 million lb (130 million kg) of cheese at 11 plants.[18]


Historical marker titled "The Home of Colby Cheese"
A marker in Colby, Wisconsin, describes Colby cheese as "a mild, soft, moist cheese".

Colby is a semihard cheese. Its washed-curd process produces a moister and softer texture than cheddar.[15] The reduced acidity of the curd results in a mild and milky flavor and it gets its orange color from annatto.[14][17] Compared to more crumbly cheeses such as Cheshire, Colby is relatively elastic because its whey is drained at a high pH.[19] The standard of identity in the United States, according to Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations, dictates that Colby must have a moisture content of 40% or less and that the solids content must contain at least 50% milkfat. In practice, the solids content is typically 52–53%, resulting in a total fat content of 31–32%, and the salt content is usually 1.5–1.8%.[17] Compared to cheddar, the calcium content is slightly lower. Traditional Colby has an open texture with irregular holes. This aspect used to be required by its standard of identity in Wisconsin, but the requirement was removed due to vacuum packaging removing the holes from the cheese and creating a compact texture.[12][17]

The higher moisture content of Colby compared to cheddar leads to a weak body and it does not keep its quality for as long. It often develops a bitter taste and becomes extremely soft after 100 days, and is typically recommended to be consumed within three months.[17][20] Foodborne bacteria including Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella species are more likely to grow in cheeses with a moisture content greater than 50% than in hard or semihard cheeses such as Colby.[21]

Uses and derivatives[edit]

Three half-circle slices of cheese arranged on a plate
Slices of Colby-Jack

Because of its mild flavor, Colby is seldom used in cooking. Instead, it is typically used as a table cheese and in snacks, sandwiches, and salads. It can also be grated and combined with other cheeses for use on pizza.[17][22]

Colby can be mixed with Monterey Jack to produce a marble cheese known as "Colby-Jack" or "Co-Jack". The colored Colby and uncolored Monterey Jack curds are mixed before the pressing and ripening steps, resulting in the marbled effect. It is a popular cheese; in 2006, an estimated 84 million lb (38 million kg) of Colby-Jack were sold in supermarkets, more than either Colby or Monterey Jack individual sales.[23]

Pinconning cheese is a style of Colby named after Pinconning, Michigan, where it was created in 1915 by Dan Horn, who had moved to the city from Wisconsin. Horn created the cheese in response to an excess of cows and milk in the city. Pinconning cheese has been consumed over a wide range of aging periods, including as long as 16 years.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Apps, Jerry (2015). Wisconsin Agriculture: A History. Wisconsin Historical Society Press. pp. 240–241. ISBN 978-0-87020-724-2.
  2. ^ a b Norton, James; Dilley, Becca (2009). The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-299-23433-1.
  3. ^ Uhlig, Keith (June 30, 2021). "Colby cheese a Wisconsin original despite state lawmakers' disrespect". Wausau Daily Herald. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  4. ^ Stern, Gerd (2007). "Cheese: Historical Overview". In Smith, Andrew F. (ed.). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-19-988576-3.
  5. ^ Jensen, Joan M. (2006). Calling This Place Home: Women on the Wisconsin Frontier, 1850–1925. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press. pp. 139–140. ISBN 978-0-87351-563-4.
  6. ^ Uhlig, Keith (April 5, 2021). "Colby, 'basically the ultimate cheese,' should be Wisconsin's official cheese". Marshfield News-Herald. Archived from the original on October 5, 2021. Retrieved December 16, 2021.
  7. ^ Wiersma, Terri (July 12, 2006). "Cheese turns Colby into fun place". Marshfield News-Herald. Retrieved December 17, 2021 – via
  8. ^ Falat, Bobby (July 16, 2021). "2021 Colby Cheese Days Underway". WAOW. Archived from the original on January 12, 2022. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  9. ^ Reis, Lois (April 27, 1983). "The 'home of Colby cheese' closes after almost 100 years". The Country Today. Retrieved December 17, 2021 – via
  10. ^ a b Karnopp, Hope (July 7, 2021). "A bill to make Colby the official state cheese is getting another chance at becoming a law". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Archived from the original on July 8, 2021. Retrieved December 16, 2021.
  11. ^ Bauer, Scott (July 7, 2021). "Colby would be official Wisconsin cheese under bill". Associated Press. Archived from the original on September 6, 2021. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  12. ^ a b c d Lawrence, R. C.; Gilles, J.; Creamer, L. K.; Crow, V. L.; Heap, H. A.; Honoré, C. G.; Johnston, K. A.; Samal, P. K. (2004). "Cheddar Cheese and Related Dry-salted Cheese Varieties". In Fox, Patrick F.; McSweeney, Paul L. H.; Cogan, Timothy M.; Guinee, Timothy P. (eds.). Cheese: Chemistry, Physics and Microbiology, Volume 2: Major Cheese Groups (3rd ed.). Elsevier. pp. 95–96. doi:10.1016/S1874-558X(04)80040-X. ISBN 978-0-08-050094-2.
  13. ^ a b c d e Chandan, Ramesh C.; Kapoor, Rohit (2011). "Manufacturing Outlines and Applications of Selected Cheese Varieties". In Ramesh C., Chandan; Arun, Kilara (eds.). Dairy Ingredients for Food Processing. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 270–271. doi:10.1002/9780470959169.ch11. ISBN 978-0-8138-1746-0.
  14. ^ a b Johnson, Mark E. (2001). "Cheese Products". In Marth, Elmer H.; Steele, James L. (eds.). Applied Dairy Microbiology (2nd ed.). CRC Press. p. 378. ISBN 978-0-8247-0536-7.
  15. ^ a b Fox, Patrick F.; Guinee, Timothy P.; Cogan, Timothy M.; McSweeney, Paul L. H. (2016). Fundamentals of Cheese Science (2nd ed.). Springer. pp. 42–43. doi:10.1007/978-1-4899-7681-9. ISBN 978-1-4899-7681-9. S2CID 92789023.
  16. ^ Tunick, Michael (2014). The Science of Cheese. Oxford University Press. p. 130. ISBN 978-0-19-992230-7.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Johnson, Mark E. (2016). "Colby". In Donnelly, Catherine; Kehler, Mateo (eds.). The Oxford Companion to Cheese. Oxford University Press. pp. 175–176. ISBN 978-0-19-933089-8.
  18. ^ Dairy Products: 2020 Summary (PDF) (Report). United States Department of Agriculture. April 27, 2021. p. 33. ISSN 1057-784X. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 25, 2021. Retrieved December 18, 2021.
  19. ^ Lucey, J. H.; Fox, P. F. (1993). "Importance of Calcium and Phosphate in Cheese Manufacture: A Review". Journal of Dairy Science. 76 (6): 1714–1724. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(93)77504-9.
  20. ^ Partridge, John A. (2009). "Cheddar and Cheddar-Type Cheese". In Clark, Stephanie; Costello, Michael; Drake, MaryAnne; Bodyfelt, Floyd (eds.). The Sensory Evaluation of Dairy Products (2nd ed.). Springer. p. 268. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-77408-4_9. ISBN 978-0-387-77408-4.
  21. ^ Choi, Kyoung-Hee; Lee, Heeyoung; Lee, Soomin; Kim, Sejeong; Yoon, Yohan (March 2016). "Cheese Microbial Risk Assessments – A Review". Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences. 29 (3): 307–314. doi:10.5713/ajas.15.0332. PMC 4811779. PMID 26950859.
  22. ^ Chandan, R. C. (2014). "Cheese in the Marketplace". In Batt, Carl A.; Tortorello, Mary-Lou (eds.). Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology (2nd ed.). Academic Press. p. 390. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-384730-0.00058-6. ISBN 978-0-12-384733-1.
  23. ^ Clark, Stephanie; Agarwal, Shantanu (2016). "Cheddar and Related Hard Cheeses". In Hui, Y. H. (ed.). Handbook of Animal-Based Fermented Food and Beverage Technology (2nd ed.). CRC Press. p. 337. ISBN 978-1-4398-5023-7.
  24. ^ Lavey, Kathleen (April 13, 2017). "Michigan food finds: Pinconning cheese, from squeaky to sharp". Lansing State Journal. Retrieved December 18, 2021.

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