Feb 23, 2020

Cheddar Cheese Color

Most cheddar cheeses coming from Vermont and New York are white, but the majority of Wisconsin cheddar is colored.

All cheese is naturally white, off white, or even a golden yellow, depending on the type of milk used. The color comes from the flavorless Annatto seed, which gives Wisconsin cheddar the pumpkin orange hue.
Sid Cook, fourth-generation owner of Carr Valley Cheese in LaValle, Wis., believes the state’s cheddars were tinted orange as far back as the late 1800s. In the early days of Wisconsin cheesemaking, cows dined on carotene-rich pasture, and their milk naturally produced a cheese with a rich golden color. Gradually, some dairies moved their cows off pasture and onto dry feed, with the resulting milk yielding paler cheese. Because consumers already associated the gold color with quality, cheesemakers used Annatto to bring back the color.
Another theory holds that Wisconsin cheese-makers wanted to differentiate their cheddars from those coming from New York, so they used Annatto seed and turned their cheddars orange, using it as their own claim to fame and capturing a portion of the market.
After a cow chews the cud, beta-carotene dissolves into the animal’s fat stores and ends up in fat globules in its milk. However, protein clusters and the membranes that surround fat globules in milk conceal the pigment’s color, reflecting light in a way that makes milk appear white and opaque. During the cheesemaking process, the pigment is released. After bacterial culture and rennet have been added to milk and the coagulated mixture is cooked, the fat membranes dissolve and the protein clusters loosen so they do not reflect light. The beta carotene is made visible, and it also becomes more concentrated, since the lean liquid component of the milk, called whey, is drained off. It follows that the fattiest cheeses, and those from cows grazed on open pasture, tend to have the deepest natural color.

Incidentally, there is no taste difference because of color. When it is produced, cheddar cheese is naturally white to light yellow in color. The dark yellow / orange color is the result of the coloring additive. Also, but unrelated, according to research conducted by the British Cheese Board, no study subjects reported having nightmares after eating cheese, but blue cheese consumption had a tendency to make dreams a bit odd.

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