Colby: The Real American Cheese

Colby: The Real American Cheese

blocks of cheese

Grated, peeled, sliced, or melted, cheese will always be one of the things that top people’s favorite foods; heck, even vegan cheese is a thing, which goes to show you just how ubiquitous cheese is to our daily lives.

While products like Roquefort, Emmenthal, or even just everyday Cheddar, are usually what people think of when they think of cheese, the good ol’ US of A also produces amazing cheeses, both replicates of European cheeses and cheeses that are uniquely American. However, ‘American Cheese’ gets a pretty bad rep and it kind of makes sense.

What is “American” Cheese?

When people use the term American Cheese, they almost always refer to the heavily processed and commercialized sliced cheese. It’s the same one that goes on cheeseburgers (or grated onto chili or cheap tacos), and while it does have this nice melty quality to it, American Cheese isn’t exactly prized for its taste. Unfortunately, and despite the efforts of cheesemakers around the country (particularly the Midwest), those Kraft singles became synonymous with the best of American cheesemaking.

So while our country does make amazing cheeses of varying styles and tastes, many people around the world (especially those snooty ‘turophile’ types) still shudder at the thought of “American Cheese.”

What is Colby Cheese?

grilled cheese sandwichFortunately for us, all that’s changing: while Colby cheese has been around since the late 1800s, it’s only in the past few decades that real American cheeses have been put front and center and re-established America as a serious cheese manufacturer (it always has been but, you know, it’s always good to remind everyone).

Colby Cheese was first produced in 1885, but a certain Joseph Steinwand. Much like the European convention of naming a food product after the place, it was produced at, the cheese that Mr. Steinwand created was named after his father’s cheese factory, which was located at, you guessed it, Colby, Wisconsin.

While Colby is no longer produced in the town of Colby, local cheese shops all over Wisconsin still carry the unique cheese and is one of the products that bring pride to the Badger state.

Why Colby Cheese?

But why should we consider Colby as the cheese to represent America? Well, there’s a couple of reasons: first, it’s one of the first true ‘indigenous’ cheeses in the United States; it wasn’t just a cheese made in America, it’s a cheese that was developed in America. While there were cheeses that existed before Colby, they were usually just New World replicates of European cheeses. Colby, on the other hand, uses a modified version of the old cheddar-making techniques the British brought over during colonial times. Colby’s process foregoes the process of cheddaring to create a cheese that is softer, milder, and moister than cheddar through a washed-curd process.

This process creates a cheese that has a characteristically mild, sweet, and nutty flavor while remaining less acidic than other cheeses. Because of its mildness, it’s usually eaten on its own, and it’s an integral part of any American cheese table.

So, yes, we Americans have a lot to be proud of, and our cheeses are one of those things!

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