Colby cheese is a semi-hard cow's milk cheese native to the United States, although it is made in other regions of the world as well. The cheese is often compared to cheddar cheese, since the two are both typically dyed to appear orange or creamy yellow, although the two cheeses taste very different. As is the case with most cheeses manufactured in the United States, Colby cheese is made with pasteurized milk, and raw milk versions are not usually available for commercial sale because of the short aging. Many grocery stores around the United States sell Colby cheese, and for people outside North America, the cheese often pops up at large grocers or import stores.
The cheese was developed in the late 1800s by Joseph Steinwand, the son of a cheesemaker in Wisconsin. Steinwand named the cheese for the town in which the family had built their first dairy, and Colby, Wisconsin continues to celebrate Colby cheese today. As Wisconsin cheese caught the public eye, Colby also became quite popular. It is considered to be one of the first truly American cheeses, as it was developed by an American in the United States, and it is not intended to be an imitation of a European cheese.
The flavor of this cheese is often compared to cheddar, but is much milder and creamier. Colby also has a high moisture content, and it tends to be much softer than cheddar. The cheese is manufactured with a washed curd process, and is not subjected to cheddaring, as is the case with cheddar cheese. Washing reduces the acid content, making Colby less tangy when it is finished.
The gentle, mild cheese does not age well, tending to become cracked and dry. It should be eaten as young as possible, making it an excellent choice of cheese for commercial production since dairies do not need to invest in a large aging area for finished cheeses. Certain high quality Colby cheese may be aged, but the majority of the cheese is sent directly to market.
The smooth flavor of Colby cheese pairs well with Zinfandel, Syrah, and Shiraz wines. It also goes well with tangy rye bread, apples, and pears. Some people like to use Colby as a table cheese, and the gentle flavor and texture also perform well in grilled sandwiches. Colby is also blended with other cheeses, such as Monterey Jack, to make Colby Jack cheese, and it is sometimes blended with a sharp cheddar to counter the tangy flavor of the cheddar so that it does not overwhelm the food.