Saturday, May 17, 2008

The mystery of orange cheddar

Sheela had another question (she is a scientist after all, she has a lot of questions). She wanted to know why cheddar cheese is orange.

Cheddar is a mysterious thing. Made with a "cheddaring" process where the whey is stacked in blocks (a process that originated in Cheddar, England), in its natural state it's creamy white. But a lot of the stuff in the grocery store is dyed bright orange.

So why dye? I'll lay out the facts:

1. Cheddar made in England is always white and is never dyed.
2. BUT... other cheeses in England are dyed orange. Double gloucester, red leicester. They've been dying them for centuries. They used to dye them with carrot juice or saffron, now they use a natural dye called annatto. There's even a french cheese that's dyed orange (mimolette).

Maybe cheddar was originally dyed because american producers confused cheddar and double gloucester, and thought dying it would make it appear more english.

Or maybe they just thought it looked better. It is odd though. We don't dye jack or mozzarella and they're white as can be.

In any case, it must sell because there's a hell of a lot of it. The good news is that the dye won't hurt you, annatto comes from the achiote tree in South America.

Even in Velveeta! (look on the label---annatto)

1 comment:

Chris said...

Pastured fed cattle produce varying colored cheese depending on the season. Spring and summer produced orange cheese while the winter and fall (eating hay) produced white to pale yellow. The orange stuff was considered healthier because of the higher butterfat. So to eliminate variations and in order to always have the 'good' stuff, cheddar was died orange. Why this is the case with cheddar and not other cheese, I don't know.