Colby cheese is an American-made cheese that bears a visual resemblance to Cheddar cheese, due to its yellow color. But apart from the color, the two cheeses are actually quite different.
Made from: Cow's milk
Origin: Wisconsin, USA
Aging: 1 to 3 months
What Is Colby Cheese?
Colby cheese is a semi-hard cheese made from pasteurized cow's milk. It was first produced in 1885 in the town of Colby, Wisconsin. It has a mild flavor, an open, springy texture, yellow color, and a sweet, mild aroma. If you're familiar with Monterey Jack cheese, Colby is basically a yellow version of that. Because it is a high-moisture cheese, Colby melts exceptionally well.
Colby Vs. Cheddar
Colby cheese is often confused with Cheddar cheese, mostly due to the fact that they are the same color. And indeed, both Colby and Cheddar are dyed with annatto, a food coloring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. But the flavor of Colby is quite mild as compared with Cheddar.
Another major difference between the two is that Colby does not undergo the so-called cheddaring process, which involves stacking loaves of curds and pressing them together, giving the cheese a dense texture. Instead, Colby has an open texture which sometimes features tiny holes.
Finally, Cheddar is an aged cheese, whereas Colby is typically aged for only one to three months. A young Colby, aged only two to three weeks, has a creamy texture, which some aficionados insist is the best way to enjoy Colby.
How Colby Cheese Is Made
The typical process for making cheese involves acidifying the milk using a bacterial culture, and then adding rennet to curdle it, before separating the curds from the whey, heating the curds and molding them into the desired shape. With Colby cheese, the curds are washed with water before heating, which means the whey is replaced by water. This stops the process of acidification, giving the cheese a milder flavor and a softer texture. Beyond that, Colby cheese is only aged for one to three months, as compared with Cheddar cheese, which is frequently aged for a year, and sometimes even longer.
Types of Colby Cheese
There are three main types of Colby cheese. First there is regular Colby, which is produced in rectangular blocks. A second type, Longhorn Colby, is formed into long cylinders, which are then sliced into wheels, and then the wheels are halved into semi-circular retail portions. The idea behind calling it "longhorn" is evidently that the moon-shaped semi-circles somewhat resemble the horns of cattle. Finally, there's Colby-Jack, sometimes called Co-Jack, which is a marbled cheese (yellow and white) consisting of Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses. It's made by blending together the two types of curds, then pressing them together in molds. Colby-Jack is usually aged for only two weeks.
In terms of flavor, texture and melting ability, the best substitute for Colby cheese is Monterey Jack. Both are young cheeses with mild flavors, high moisture content and springy textures. The only thing differentiating the two are the colors, since Colby is yellow and Monterey Jack is white. If you wanted to substitute another yellow cheese, you could try a young, mild or medium cheddar, aged for no more than 3 months, or even American cheese.
Because it melts so well, Colby cheese is a great cheese to use for making cheese sauces, grilled cheese sandwiches, and for serving on burgers. It also works well in mac and cheese, sometimes in combination with a drier, more flavorful cheese such as cheddar. Colby can also be shredded and served in tacos and fajitas, and it pears well with fruits like apples and pears.
Colby is a young cheese with a relatively high moisture content and soft, pliable texture, so it's best eaten relatively soon after purchasing it. To store it, the goal is to keep it from drying out, which is difficult in the refrigerator, since the fridge effectively pulls the moisture out of everything in it. At the same time, wrapping it tightly in plastic can suffocate the cheese. So the best way to store Colby is to wrap it in wax paper or parchment, store it in the cheese drawer of the refrigerator (which protects it somewhat from the drying effects of the main part of the fridge), and eat it within a week or two.
Colby Cheese Recipes
While Colby might not be the most flavorful cheese, it makes up for that in smoothness and easy melting. Substitute Colby for Cheddar or other cheeses in recipes like these.