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Why Is Cheddar Orange?

Cheddar cheese with crackers

Cheese is white, right?

After all, cheese comes from milk.

Milk comes from cows (and goats).

Every cow I know of makes white milk.

So why is cheese orange?

Such was the conversation with our friends Matt and Nicole during Carrie’s birthday dinner at their house last night.

Carrie actually took the initiative to look it up, and sent the results of her cheese search to me.

I’m sharing them with you here now.

Why is cheddar cheese orange?


Cheese taste is […] highly affected by the food an animal eats. If a cow eats a lot of onions, its milk will lead to oniony cheese.

So back in the day in England, Cheddar Cheese (that is to say, cheese from Cheddar, England) was found to be quite tasty indeed – better than most other English cheeses. As it was so popular, the folks in Cheddar [the town of Cheddar] could charge a wee bit more for their cheese than other folks.

Then some scalawag noted that there was an orange tint to the Cheddar cheese. Being a greedy little […expletive removed…] , this scalawag added a tad bit of coloring to his own cheese, and started selling his cheese as Cheddar as well. People’s tastes being what they are, they probably equated “more orange” as meaning “more Cheddar-like”, and started paying more for the more orange cheeses.

Meanwhile, back in Cheddar, they couldn’t understand why people went ga-ga over orange, as the color had absolutely nothing to do with the taste. The taste came from the fact that their cows ate different grasses and that the cheeses were aged in different storage facilities than other cheese making areas of Britain.

That’s why Cheddar Cheese is orange. Because we want it to be.

What dye is used in making cheddar cheese orange?


Nowadays the most common of these is annatto, a yellow-red dye made from the seeds of a tree of the same name. Dyeing the cheese eliminated seasonal color fluctuations and also played to the fact (or anyway the belief) that spring/summer milk had a higher butterfat content than the fall/winter kind and thus produced more flavorful cheese. Figuring if yellow = good, orange = better, some cheese makers began ladling in the annatto in double handfuls, producing cheese that looked like something you’d want to carve into a jack-o’-lantern. In recent years some smaller operations have rebelled and stopped using colorants. Be forewarned–according to one cheese making text, uncolored cheese is a “sordid, unappetizing melange of dirty yellow.” But at least it’s real.

And now you know THE REST of the story.

Humans are weird.

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