The Cheese Insider

People always ask why some cheddar cheese is yellow or orange. I know what you’re thinking… “Yuck, it must be orange because the cheese maker added some awful articial coloring that is surely dangerous to your health,” right? Well there are certain artificial cheeses where that is the case, including the “stuff” sold as cheese that comes out of a can, and isn’t really cheese.

The history of why some cheddar cheese is orange is really pretty simple and not harmful at all. Cheddar cheese was started hundreds of years ago in England, mostly on small dairy farms. The reason cheese was made was because it was a way for the farmer to “preserve the milk.” There was no way to refrigerate or pasteurize the milk, but cheese could be made and stored in a cellar for a long time, offering the farmers a source of protein year round. Cheese was also much easier to transport, store, and sell in markets for others to enjoy.

When early American settlers began making cheese, especially cheddar cheese, they did not want their cheese to be confused with the cheese coming from England. They loved cheddar cheese, but it had to be different. What they discovered was annatto, a seed that comes from a tree that grows in Central and South America. When this seed is dried, ground and added in small amounts to the cheese being made, it turned the cheese orange, but did not add any flavor at all – 100 percent natural, and flavorless.

Well, there you have it, now you know why some cheddar cheeses are orange. I suggest that you enjoy good cheddar whether it is white or orange…Wisconsin is the largest producer of cheddar cheese in the United States.

Michael C. Thomas is co-owner of Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese with his wife Janice. With locations in Ellison Bay and Egg Harbor, they aim to bring the best of Wisconsin artisan cheeses to Door County, and with “The Cheese Insider” Michael hopes to bring all things cheese to readers of the Pulse.