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Joseph Steinwand and his original Wisconsin cheese

Wisconsin Cheese

As the famous dairy state of the U.S., cheese is no doubt a staple in Wisconsin. As such it seems only fit that we have an official state cheese. Efforts by law makers in recent years have pushed to make Colby cheese the official state cheese. This cheese is not only important for its significance to the state, it is also meaningful a bit closer to home in northern Wisconsin.

Colby cheese was invented in Colby, Wisconsin, near Wausau, in 1885 by Joseph Steinwand. Steinwand had grown familiar with the art of cheesemaking since his father owned a large cheese factory in Colby. From age sixteen, Steinwand assisted his father within the factory and learned of the many ways in which cheeses are produced. It is also said that his father even sent Steinwand to take a course in cheesemaking in Madison to perfect his craft. By the time the factory had been in business for some years, Steinwand was well versed in the whole operation and its intricacies from the warming of the milk to the separation of the curd.

It was at this point in 1885, three years after his father had first started the cheese business, that Steinwand took a step back from making the common cheddar that was popularly produced in the factory and had been well known since the 12th century. He instead conducted an experiment, switching up the centuries old cheddar recipe in hopes of creating something new that was just as appetizing. The changes he made were minor, but they were enough to create a smoother, milder cheese that differed from other cheeses in taste and texture. He named the cheese after the township. It instantly grew to popularity. Customers loved the soft moistness and the more subtle taste that Colby cheese had in comparison to other cheeses they had tried. This invention of flavor and consistency was enough to put the Colby township on the map. It became one of the largest hubs of cheese production in America during the time.

The cheese industry is still booming in Colby today where they produce many kinds of cheese, of course favoring their production of Colby cheese, and are maintaining their status of excellent cheesemaking. It is not just in Wisconsin or the U.S. either, Colby cheese is now produced all around the world as a common type of cheese that is enjoyed by many. Along with a widened range of production, Colby cheese itself has also developed. With its mild base flavor, it has been combined with a different type of cheese, Monterey Jack, to create the well-known and widely consumed hybrid called Colby-jack cheese that is popular today.

Though it has gone through changes over the years, Colby cheese has undoubtedly held up in Wisconsin since it was first created some 138 years ago. As a cheese native to Wisconsin that set off the cheese making business in the state after the turn of the century, Colby cheese makes a strong case to be named as Wisconsin’s official state cheese.

This story was written and produced by Sydney Kuckkan, one of the WXPR's Student Storytellers.

Student Storytellers is an initiative to amplify youth voices.

Sydney is a local high school student who has been working with WXPR this summer to learn more about the journalism field.

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