Saturday, July 24, 2010

What is the Difference Between White and Orange Cheddar Cheese?

When many people think of Cheddar cheese, they see before them beautiful gleaming blocks of orange cheese. They may think that this is the natural color of the cheese and that if Cheddar is not colored that the taste or the texture will be completely different. In fact, both colored and uncolored Cheddar have the same basic ingredients and it is only the presence or lack of a coloring agent that will make a difference between the two types of Cheddars.

Unlike many cheeses, the milk for Cheddar must come from cows for it to be proper Cheddar cheese. In many places the milk has traditionally been unpasteurized but now, in many cases, pasteurized milk is now used. This is mixed with rennet which curdles the cheese and causes the curds to form. These are then handled through a process called Cheddaring and the cheese is then aged until the proper age and texture has been reached.

When a cheese maker wants to produce colored Cheddar, they add specific ingredients to the milk in order to give it the characteristic orange hue. There are a few different ingredients that can be used to give it this characteristic orange color that has become familiar to so many consumers. The original colorings that were used were made of carrot juice or another substance known as annatto.

Annatto is extracted from the pulp surrounding the seeds of the Achiote tree which grows in the tropics. This extract can add a certain flavor of its own but is most commonly used as a food coloring. The reddish pulp mixes with the rich cream and turns it a beautiful orange hue. Annatto is also used in the production of several other cheeses including Red Leicester and some types of Brie. Modern Cheddar may not be colored with straight annatto. It may often be colored with a mixture of annatto and paprika oil.

Other than the presence of coloring agents, there is no difference between Cheddar that is orange and Cheddar that is uncolored. There have been some studies performed that show consumers prefer orange Cheddar but it is largely a personal choice rather than one that is driven by flavor. The flavor of Cheddar cheese is affected more by the length of time that it is aged rather than by the coloring that has been added to it.

Joseph Harding, who is commonly regarded as the father of Cheddar cheese for his modern production methods, was actually the first person to introduce the idea of colored Cheddar. He claimed that the people of London preferred food that was artificially colored and suggested doing so with Cheddar in order to make it more marketable. His methods of cheese making first caught on in England but also became popular in Scotland and North America. This is one reason why colored cheddar is found in Canada and the United States as well as in Britain.

If you want to make sure that Cheddar has been properly colored, look for very even coloring throughout the brick. This means that during the process of cutting, stacking and aging the curds that the coloring has been worked in consistently throughout the cheese. Uncolored cheddar should be a yellow color that can range from creamy to deep yellow.

-Written by Lisa Longworth


  1. I have always wondered this! Thanks for the great blog post on explaining the difference between white and orange chedder is!

  2. I knew that coloring was added to give the orange color, and I was told by one cheese producer that people in the Midwest tend to prefer the orange cheddar. I prefer the lighter color myself. I'm sure I couldn't tell the difference if I was blindfolded.

  3. No wonder I reacted allergically to the orange chedder curds when I was a kid. I'm allergic to carrots, so the batch I'd eaten from must have been made with carrots. Thank you for this information, it's very helpful.

  4. Before my comment I want to point out a pattern. Comment 1 and 2 are 1 year apart, 2 and 3 are 2 years apart, and 3 and 4(me) are 3 years apart. See you in 4 years comment #5

    Actual Comment:
    Really helpful information. I appreciate all of it. Thank you.

  5. I think Im allergic to Annatto. I look for it in white.


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