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Debate on making Colby Wisconsin's official cheese continues

To Colby, or not to Colby?
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Posted at 4:25 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 19:32:06-05

TOWN OF ROCKLAND (NBC 26) — Although Wisconsin is the number one cheese producer in the country, there isn't an official state cheese.

A bipartisan bill could change that.

Senate Bill 371 would make Colby Wisconsin's official cheese. The Senate Committee on Government Operations, Legal Review and Consumer Protection discussed the proposal during a public hearing Tuesday.

State Sen. Kathy Bernier, (R) Chippewa Falls, and Rep. Donna Rozar (R) Marshfield, authored the bill. They represent the city of Colby in Clark and Marathon counties – the birthplace of Colby cheese.
“Colby cheese is a classic Wisconsin cheese with a unique rural history that people across this country now enjoy as much as Wisconsinites," said Rep. Rozar in a statement. "It is time we honor our collective legacy as the dairy state and name an official cheese that began right here in Wisconsin."

Colby cheese was created in 1885 when 16-year-old Joseph F. Steinwand began experimenting with the cheesemaking process at his family's small cheese factory in Colby, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin cheesemakers produce a quarter of the nation's cheese, making about 3.4 billion pounds yearly, according to the Wisconsin DATCP. Data from the USDA shows Mozerella accounts for 31.8% of that total, followed by cheddar at 21.9%. Wisconsin produces 45 million pounds of Colby every year, which accounts for about 1.33% of the yearly total.

Kayla Motkowski, general manager of Scray Cheese Co. in the town of Rockland, said Colby wouldn't be her first choice for the state's official cheese.

"I don't think Colby, I guess, is the most exciting cheese to chose for Wisconsin. It's kind of bland. But we do have a Colby, Wisconsin, so I guess I'm not really against it," Motowski said. "I think cheddar would be better. It has more flavor. And we make it."

Scray Cheese is a 4th generation artisan cheese factory and shop that handcrafts Cheddar, Gouda and Fountina cheese. They produce six vats of cheese daily on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The factory started in 1924 making Cheddar and Gouda. The family opened a store in 2009 that sells their products and other Wisconsin cheese. People can also buy ice cream, smoothies and coffee from the shop.

"I love seeing something that's been in my family for four generations succeed," Motkowski said.

It's possible the family-owned business may see Wisconsin name an official cheese. The bill would need to be approved in the state Senate and Assembly, and be signed by Gov. Tony Evers before becoming law.