A few Wellness Wednesdays ago (yes, Wellness Wednesday is now a unit of measurement), Ed sampled a few of the Co-op’s new products from our Co-op Certified deli, including Applegate turkey, ham, and chipotle chicken, as well as Applegate provolone, Swiss, and cheddar cheese. About halfway through the demo, a customer asked, “Why is cheddar cheese orange?” We were stumped. I had no idea. After some heavy research, this is what I found…
Cheddar cheese has a natural pale yellow hue. Unlike other white cheeses (like feta or mozzarella), the color of cheddar cheese is affected by beta carotene, an antioxidant found in grass. While cows graze, the beta carotene digests in their fat stores. As the cheese making process proceeds, the yellow pigment of beta carotene becomes more apparent as the chemical make up of the milk changes. The richness of the color also depends on the season – the warmer months yield a ‘yellow-er’ cheddar because grass is more abundant and nutritious.
Annatto, which comes from the achiote tree, is the coloring agent that makes cheddar cheese appear orange, rather than its natural yellow color. Dying cheese became popular in the 16th century when farmers tried to make low fat cheese appear more like a high fat cheese, which, at the time, was more desirable and expensive (ironic, right?). In the mid 1800s, dying cheese became standard due to the inconsistent colors between winter and summer cheddar cheese as well as the beginnings of industrial agricultural practices.
Today, many Americans recognize orange as the color of cheddar cheese, hence, the continuation of dying cheddar cheese orange.
For more info, check out slate.