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Why is Wisconsin Cheddar Orange?

  • 10-Year Cheddar, Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point
  • 6-Year Cheddar by Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa
  • 4-Year Cheddar by Carr Valley Cheese in LaValle

Published by cheeseunderground

11 thoughts on “ Why is Wisconsin Cheddar Orange? ”

According to international cheese expert, Steven Jenkins,(a.k.a. “Cheese God”, “Cheese Guru” “Cheese Wizard”):

“wisconsin cheddar is orange because ALL american cheddars started out orange — the early immigrant cheesemakers (300 years ago) were dying their milk with annatto or achiote because it was english farmhouse CHESHIRE that created the market (in london) for english farmhouse CHEDDAR from somerset. ALL cheesemakers wanted their cheese to look like CHESHIRE! and cheshire looked that way (orange) because of the vein of iron in the sub-stratum of soil beneath the pastures of cheshire. the grass that grew was infused with the vitamin D from the grass and the soil, and it tinted the milk and the subsequent cheese a natural, very light ORANGE. cheshire-makers were so proficient at cheesemaking, i.e. their cheeses tasted so good, that their cheeses ruled the london market and fetched the highest prices. the customers became inured to seeking the orange-est cheeses. “

A bit more in regard to “orange-izing cow milk”
In regards to dying fluid milk….the Babcock test (which test the true level of butterfat in the milk ) was developed in Wisconsin over one hundred years ago because farmers were paid for their milk based on how “orange/buttery” the milk was, denoting how much butter was in the summer milk. Before the routine use of the Babcock test honest farmers were not getting fair compensation for their milk and dishonest farmers learned how to simmer carrots on the kitchen burner and strain off the liquid, adding it to the fluid milk which dyed the butter fat a pale orange.
The jersey cow milk that I use from grass fed cows makes for a beautiful creamy orange cheese, at least until the killing freeze, then the milk goes into a deep ivory color once the grass stops growing or once the animals are switched to hay, which, ironically, is when the butterfat is typically the highest.
Sad to think that Wisconsin commodity cheddar market is based on the practie of “duping” the customer.

Really interesting, I’ve heard the first idea in the post most often. I remember reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books where her family would add annato or carrot juice to the butter in winter months when the milk was white- to brighten it up.
I think it’s a mix of your first explanation and some of Mary’s too. Paying homage to Cheshire via emulation.

My understanding was along the lines of MLT’s quote – that situation occurred in England. But what do I know. Oh – I do know that my 3 year old prefers orange cheese to white!

Mary’s comment on Cheshire is accurate.

And also note from the Minutes of the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association in 1900: “We have the vat ready to set, so if colored cheese is to be made, this is our first step. In cheesemaking we must make the product to suit the various markets. The Southern market requiring a high color, while the Chicago and Western markets mean either a light straw color or white cheese.”
Even in 1900 Wisconsin was producing cheddars of various colors to meet customer demands.

There are an awful lot of ‘old wives’ tales’ talked about cheese, often by self styled “experts”.

Cheshire cheese is NOT naturally orange or yellow – it is near white and that is the colour (in UK) of the vast majority of it in the shops.

When you do find yellow or orange versions it is due to the addition of colorants, just as per cheddar and other coloured cheeses.

Look up Cheshire cheese in Wikipedia

All Cheddar was not orange in America when we were a colony. Farmers from all the colonies that had dairy herds large enough or those who bought the milk made cheese white cheddar as that was the primary color from their homeland England that all recognized and knew. Also Cheddar cheese from England was being imported all the time.
There could have been a few who tried to copy a Cheshire Cheddar which was light orange for the wealthy who knew and cared about it, and could afford it..
The others were all white.
However in the 1770s as tensions grew between Great Britain and the 13 colonies many colonists made a conscious effort to buy local and boycott all British products including English Cheddar.
Now as there was no way to differentiate English made Cheddar and Colonial made Cheddar as they were both white the Colonial Cheese makers realized that they would lose money.
In the true tradition of Early American business decisions they decided to differentiate their Cheddar from English Cheddar by dying their American Cheddar with Annatto so it would be orange in color and not be confused with the English white Cheddar under boycott thus insuring sales as usual. Today we say buy USA, Made in American.
Orange colored Cheddar is still around today as it has been around a long time. However White Cheddar has been coming back for over my lifetime from The Kraft Co-op in 50-60s to Cabot later and today in Vermont.

cows that graze on open pasture and eat nothing but grass produce milk that has a yellowish orange tint. this is due to the beta carotene in the grass. it is much healthier for the cow and thus healthier for the humans who consume the milk. Almost all cows are grain fed most of the year and even some grass fed cows are finished on grain. not sure about the iron under the pasture, beta carotene is associated with dark yellow to dark orange vegetables.

The last Anonymous has it right. Try reading up on history before the colonies since not much originated here in America but was brought over from Europe. It ends up being greed that now requires the addition of food coloring to make cheddar orange. Read the following: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/11/07/243733126/how-17th-century-fraud-gave-rise-to-bright-orange-cheese. This article follows the same story from Food: Fact or Fiction?

I had always heard that in the Midwestern states, with their changing seasons and feed sources, that annatto was used as a colorant for consistency.

I had always heard that in the Midwestern states, with their changing seasons and feed sources, that annatto was used as a colorant for consistency.

Vitamin D has no color and can only be obtained from animal sources, so is not and has never been in any grass of any kind

There's no law that says Wisconsin cheddar has to be orange, but much of it is. While most cheddars coming from Vermont and New York are white, the majority of Wisconsin cheddar is colored. Why? No one knows for sure, but two prevailing theories suggest it's all about marketing. First of all, what makes cheddar…

How 17th Century Fraud Gave Rise To Bright Orange Cheese

How 17th Century Fraud Gave Rise To Bright Orange Cheese

Shelburne Farms’ clothbound cheddar has a bright yellow color because it’s made from the milk of cows that graze on grasses high in beta-carotene. Courtesy of A. Blake Gardner hide caption

Shelburne Farms’ clothbound cheddar has a bright yellow color because it’s made from the milk of cows that graze on grasses high in beta-carotene.

Courtesy of A. Blake Gardner

The news from Kraft last week that the company is ditching two artificial dyes in some versions of its macaroni and cheese products left me with a question.

Why did we start coloring cheeses orange to begin with? Turns out there’s a curious history here.

In theory, cheese should be whitish — similar to the color of milk, right?

Well, not really. Centuries ago in England, lots of cheeses had a natural yellowish-orange pigment. The cheese came from the milk of certain breeds of cows, such as Jersey and Guernsey. Their milk tends to be richer in color from beta-carotene in the grass they eat.

So, when the orange pigment transferred to the cow’s milk, and then to the cheese, it was considered a mark of quality.

Cows on the grassy hillsides of Shelburne Farms in Vermont. Courtesy of Vera Chang, Shelburne Farms hide caption

Cows on the grassy hillsides of Shelburne Farms in Vermont.

Courtesy of Vera Chang, Shelburne Farms

But here’s where the story gets interesting.

Cheese expert Paul Kindstedt of the University of Vermont explains that back in the 17th century, many English cheesemakers realized that they could make more money if they skimmed off the cream — to sell it separately or make butter from it.

The Salt

Hundreds Battle For International Cheese Glory In Wisconsin

But in doing so, most of the color was lost, since the natural orange pigment is carried in the fatty cream.

So, to pass off what was left over — basically low-fat cheese made from white milk — as a high-quality product, the cheesemakers faked it.

“The cheesemakers were initially trying to trick people to mask the white color [of their cheese],” explains Kindstedt.

They began adding coloring from saffron, marigold, carrot juice and later, annatto, which comes from the seeds of a tropical plant. (It’s also what Kraft will use to color its new varieties of macaroni and cheese.)

The devious cheesemakers of the 17th century used these colorings to pass their products off as the full-fat, naturally yellowish-orange cheese that Londoners had come to expect.

The tradition of coloring cheese then carried over in the U.S. Lots of cheesemakers in Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and New York have a long history of coloring cheddar.

The motivation was part tradition, part marketing to make their cheeses stand out. There was another reason, too: It helped cheesemakers achieve a uniform color in their cheeses.

But Kindstedt says it’s not a tradition that ever caught on in New England dairy farms.

“Here in New England there was a disdain for brightly colored cheese,” Kindstedt says.

And that’s why to this day, we still see lots of naturally white cheddar cheese from places such as Vermont.

With the boom in the artisanal food movement, we’re starting to see more cheese produced from grass-fed cows.

And as a result, we may notice the butterlike color in summer cheeses — similar to what the 17th century Londoners ate.

“We absolutely see the color changes when the cows transition onto pasture in early May,” cheesemaker Nat Bacon of Shelburne Farms in Vermont wrote to us in an email. He says it’s especially evident “in the whey after we cut the curd, and also in the finished cheese. Both get quite golden in color, kind of like straw, with the beta-carotenes the cows are eating in the fresh meadow grasses.”

Kraft says it’s ditching two artificial dyes in some of its macaroni and cheese products. But why did we start coloring cheeses orange to begin with? Turn’s out there’s a curious history here.