Colby Man Pushes Committee to Name Colby Cheese as State Symbol

Matthew Oehmichen stands by the State Historical Marker sign in Colby for a self-produced video in support of a bill that would make Colby Cheese the official Wisconsin State Cheese.

MADISON, WI (Submitted to OnFocus) – **This is an editorial and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the OnFocus staff.**

By Matt Oehmichen

The run for Colby to be the designated cheese of Wisconsin is underway, once again. After a year hiatus due circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the beloved Wisconsin original is back at the capital.

Things in 2019 came in like a tidal wave with testimony, phone calls, and enthusiastic lawmakers, but left like a cold shower once the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association came to the party. I recall five excuses being made to me back then: 1. We do not want to discriminate against other cities/towns that have a cheese heritage. 2. Colby’s popularity might disrupt market shares of mozzarella. 3. Why Colby, didn’t Brick cheese come first?  4. We have too many state symbols. 5. We don’t want to overshadow our specialty cheeses. Yes; these were all actual rebuttals, lackadaisical in nature, but yet considered reasonable by the opposition.

You can view the full testimony here:

Though it appears to be a stack piled against Colby, not all is grim. Going into this next session, the internal workings of the WCMA had only two things remaining to stress: Mozzarella and specialty cheese sales being disrupted (I have yet to have a representative/spokesperson of WCMA to refute that statement). And there is the dirty truth that stinks worse than Brick cheese: profits over principle.

It seems to be less about the cheese itself and more of a test of wills between rural Wisconsin and the “big cheese” lobbyists. They are missing the purpose of this bill and what it means for our rural Wisconsin especially.

For over 120 years our cheese dominance has endured and helps bring success to our state ($45.6 Billion worth each year which is half of Wisconsin’s annual agricultural revenue) and its rural communities. Why such sustained success: being innovating while staying connected to our traditions. When a legacy as rich as our dairy/cheese industry can be passed down, whether it is the young 4th generation dairy farmer or the cheese artesian who inherited the tools and training, are we able to keep our traditions and skills of innovation alive for one more life-time.

The story of Colby cheese encapsulates that sentiment. “When we think about the cheeses that truly make us proud to be Wisconsinites, Colby is a name that always rises to the top of the list. On a deeper level, Colby perfectly encapsulates how Wisconsin’s cheesemakers approach their art: respect for tradition balanced with tireless pursuit of innovation.”*  Making sure the next generation understands the power and responsibility of their efforts, their job; only then can we be allowed to keep moving forward, just like our state mottos implores us to.

This bill isn’t about declaring Colby is the best cheese, or that it’s designation will make mozzarella cry out “mama-mia.” It is about what it represents: our innovation, stewardship, pride, and that our rural communities can dream bigger than its borders. Can Brick, Limburger, or Cheddar boast such a narrative? Will this rock the cheese-cart? Hardly. If commerce has taught me anything, a rising tide lifts all ships. Good publicity of a Wisconsin cheese is good publicity for cheese made in Wisconsin.

If Ellsworth can be the Cheese Curd Capital of THE WORLD, I think we can rest assured that it really isn’t much to ask to have a Wisconsin original be the ‘spokes-cheese’ for our state.

Wednesday, July 7 at 10:00 a.m. a public hearing will be happening at the state capital. Myself and others will be presenting testimony for bill AB 311. If you want to help please contact the following individuals and tell them you support Colby to be the state cheese.
Rep. Todd Novak (Chair of the Local Government Committee)

(608) 266-7502

[email protected]

>Rep. Nick Gundrum (Vice Chair of the Local Government Committee)

608) 264-8486

[email protected]

Rep. Donna Rozar (Co-author of the bill)

608) 267-0280

[email protected]

Sen. Kathy Bernier (Co-author of the bill)

608) 266-7511

[email protected]

* “Cheese History: The Story Behind Colby Cheese.” Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, 2021.

For more background on the issue: 

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News Desk
Author: News Desk