‘The cheese that put Wisconsin on the map’: Lawmakers make the case for Colby as the official state cheese

MADISON, Wis. — State lawmakers are once again debating a hotly-contested issue: Should Colby be the official cheese of Wisconsin? Lawmakers who represent the cheese’s hometown say yes.

The Assembly Committee on Local Government convened Wednesday to debate Assembly Bill 311, which would declare Colby the state’s official cheese.

“We are not saying Colby is the best cheese. We all have different palates for cheese,” Sen. Kathy Bernier, who represents Colby, said during Wednesday’s hearing. “But what we are saying is that Colby cheese is the cheese that put Wisconsin on the map as the world’s greatest cheesemaker.”

Named after its town of origin, Colby cheese is described on a State Historical Marker as a “mild, soft, moist cheese.” It was first created in 1885 by Joseph Steinwald, who developed the revolutionary new cheddar-making process of rinsing curds in cold water after draining the whey during the cheese making process. That cold-water wash is what gives Colby its high moisture content and mild flavor.

“I just think this is a wonderful Wisconsin tradition of rural history,” Rep. Donna M. Rozar of Colby said. “And I believe that Colby cheese, because of its history, has a very deserving place in our Blue Book as the state cheese.”

This debate has a long history too. Lawmakers introduced a similar measure in the late 1990’s. The measure was once again introduced in 2019 and even received public hearings before ultimately failing to make it to the full Assembly and Senate.

Before the full Assembly and Senate vote on the measure, the bill still needs to go through a Senate committee. If passed by the Legislature, it would go to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk for his signature.