June 18, 2021 2 min read

Almost every block of Cheddar cheese you can find in North American grocery stores is a brilliant, vibrant orange colour, while every other cheese is predominantly white. Moreover, picture a grilled cheese, a bowl of macaroni and cheese, or a box of Cheezies. The cheese is orange, but why? It’s not as if cheddar cheese is made from orange milk, right?

Furthermore, if you were to make your very own wheel of Cheddar with one of our DIY cheesemaking kits, your finished product would not be that familiar orange that you’re used to at the supermarket. If that is the case, whyis someCheddar orange? 

Funnily enough, back in seventeenth-century England, cow’s milk actuallywas slightly orange! Cheddar cheese was produced from cows whose grass diet was high in beta-carotene, which lent an orange pigment to their milk. That hue came to be a marker of high-quality cheese, which meant that producers of lower-quality, lower-fat cheese learned to game the system by adding pigment from saffron, marigold, and carrot juice.

With its vibrant orange colouring, this Cheddar is easy to pick out amongst all other cheeses in the supermarket.

The technique moved to the U.S. with cheesemakers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, who wanted to ensure uniform colour throughout the year (since the colour of cheese changes depending on whether the cows are eating beta-carotene-rich grass in the spring or hay in the winter) and to distinguish their product from the typically white cheese made in New England and New York.

Today, the only reason Cheddar is orange is that cheese manufacturerswant it to be. In other words, Cheddar naturally ranges from white to a pale yellow in colour, and then cheese manufacturers dye it to the iconic orange that we all know it by. Generally speaking, the orange dye that colours Cheddar is derived from annatto (or paprika), which does not noticeably affect any preexisting flavours or textures in the cheese. Over time, the colour orange became associated with cheese itself, which explains why American cheese—and also cheese snacks like Cheetos—are orange, too.

Today, the annatto plant is the most commonly used ingredient to give North American Cheddar its iconic colour.

In addition, if you were to go to a European supermarket, you would find that all of their Cheddar is white, not orange. North America just seems to have this infatuation with orange Cheddar!

Therefore, unless you simplycannot enjoy your Cheddar to be vibrantly orange, you are not missing anything when it comes to a classic White Cheddar compared to your bog-standard supermarket orange Cheddar!

References

Jampel, S. (2019, December 16). Why Is Cheddar Cheese Orange Sometimes? Bon Appétit. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/why-is-cheddar-cheese-orange.


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