The Cheese Insider

Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, is well known for its cheese, and the cows that provide the milk. The landscape of our state is dotted with the familiar sight of cows, especially in the central and southern parts of our state. Most of the cheeses made in America today were inspired by cheeses that were created in Europe hundreds of years ago, like cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, Swiss, etc. Wisconsin is credited with producing three originals, Colby, Brick and cold pack spreads. I have shared with you before the story of Brick cheese, and today we will look at Colby and cold pack.

Colby cheese was invented in 1885 by Joseph Steinwand in his father’s cheese factory near Colby, Wisconsin. It is similar to cheddar but is made with what is known as “washed-curd” technique, which produces a milder flavor and a softer, springier texture. The texture of this cheese is created by using this technique. After the curds have been formed they are sprayed with cold water and stirred while still in the vat, which prevents them from bonding. Its flavor is somewhat similar to a mild cheddar, but it features a tiny-holed texture and higher moisture content.

According to USDA standards, Colby cheese cannot contain more than 40 percent moisture. So Colby’s softer consistency is due to the loose texture created by the washed-curd process and not because of significantly higher moisture content.

Longhorn is a Colby-style cheese that is normally produced in tall cylinders but sold in thick slices that are cut into half moon shapes. A popular hybrid is a mixture of Colby and Jack cheese called CoJack. It’s a blend of orangish yellow (Colby) and ivory white (Monterey Jack) cheeses, the combination of which produces a marbled effect.

Because of the milder flavor of Colby, it is a cheese that very often has various flavors added to it, including hot pepper, Cajun, caraway, and a variety of other spices. This cheese is a favorite for melting in grilled cheese sandwiches or on top of a heaping bowl of chili.

Cold pack cheese is a blend of natural cheese, and in some cases, other ingredients like certain herbs and spices. The cheeses are shredded and blended, then packed into molds before being pressed. The cheesemaking process is done without heat, which differentiates cold pack from processed cheese. More that one type of cheese of the same variety can be used, mild and sharp brick, for example.

In addition, it has less than a 44 percent moisture content and must have the same amount of moisture as the cheese used to make it. The result is a firm cheese that’s creamy yet crumbly when cold. It becomes very spreadable when brought to room temperature.

We carry, what I believe to be, the very best cold pack cheese made, Widmer’s Brick Spread. This cold pack cheese is 100 percent natural and when it is served at a party it seems to disappear. Our son Quentin, who lives in Arizona, is a real “foodie” and become a very knowledgeable cheese lover since we opened our first artisan cheese shop five years ago. He calls Widmer’s Brick Spread his favorite artisan cheese from Wisconsin. It always appears on his “send me cheese” wish list.

Sources: Wisconsin Cheese by Martin Hintz and Pam Percy and The Cheese Lover’s Companion by Ron and Sharon Herbst