Well, if my 2 cents are worth anything, it is an incredibly fun hobby. Lots of room for creative expression. Luckily, the start up costs and cost per make tend to be relatively low (always a plus).
I figure if I put together a setup to make cheddar I have the equipment (minus forms) to make many cheeses in between.
I would defintely agree with that. Equiptment-wise, there tend to be little variation. For traditional mozzarella you might want to get a reliable pH meter. I know some people make it without but I imagine that would be challenging. Cheater mozzarella (aka 30 minute mozzarella) is very easy and can be made easily without a pH meter.
Cheddar is a staple in our home.
Cheddar certainly has a following! I have tried making a traditional cheddar a couple of times, it has been about a year since I did. Wasn't really my thing, but I know some people really enjoy making it. I prefer longer aged Gouda both in terms of making and taste. As such, my experience with cheddar is a bit limited. Although I would tend to suspect that if you want to get a flavorful cheddar in a shorter period time time, adding some lipase to your recipe may be worth trying out.
Knowing that a good cheddar needs time to age and my stomach needs cheese I going to explore.
If you want a shorter aging, have you looked at Manchego? Some manchgos are aged a very short period of time (on the order of a week), others longer. Manchego recipes (the ones I have seen, not sure about all) are designed to develop some good flavor fairly quickly. I have never made colby, but if I recall my recipes correctly, colby ages between 2 or 3 months- not bad. Brie takes 5-6 weeks (depending on the recipe) to ripen plus a couple of days for the bloom to form. I have a couple of bries going right now with gorgeous rinds- they are about at 4 or 5 weeks and feel pretty close to ready (I am actually new to brie myself).
Of course... you certainly cannot go wrong with mozzarella! Very fun cheese to make too! Mozzarella is one of the first cheeses I made. There is something really cool about having a dinner party in which you serve pizza with you own home made mozzarella and crust topped with your own home made chevre.
I'll be starting some Monterrey Jack this weekend personally.