Why is most cheddar orange? How is White Cheddar different?

White and Orange cheddar slices

In its natural state, all cheese presents shades of white to creamy yellow. So what’s the deal with the pumpkin orange hue most of us associate with America’s most popular cheese? In a word, tradition.

Cheddar that is marketed as “white cheddar” is simply cheddar in its original state. When you look at cross sections of undyed cheddar blocks, especially those made from grass-fed cow’s milk, you will notice a range of tones in the creamy hues. This is due to changing levels of beta-carotene in grass and feed throughout the year, and how much cream is left in the milk during production.

More than color, the true difference between cheddars is found in the cheesemaking process: culture used,  milk choice, hand or machine manufacturing, and aging.

Cheddar the cheese has its roots in Cheddar the village, located in Somerset, England. Milk, or more specifically cream, produced by the herds grazing on the region’s beta-carotene rich pastures created cheese with a distinctive  yellowish creamy hue. And so cheddar cheese became known as much for its color as taste.

But why is it such a…bright…orange today?  Call it early visual branding. By the 1600s, farmers were skimming off the rich yellow cream into more profitable butter production, leaving them with a more starkly white cheddar. Aside from this, seasonal fluctuation in grass and feed nutrients caused variation in the milk color. To maintain the visual recognition-factor of their regional cheese, cheesemakers began to add dying agents like carrot juice, saffron and marigold.

The trend of orange-hued cheddars hopped the Atlantic with early American settlers. Over time, and with the advent of chemical dyes like Yellow No. 5, the hallmark cheddar tint eventually skewed all the way to the bright orange commonly found in cheese cases all over. Today, many manufacturers who dye their cheddar use the naturally-sourced Annatto Seed. As consumers have become more vocal about wanting dye-free foods, we are noticing that “white” cheddar is on trend. 

Many of us happily grew up on orange cheddar and we don’t think the bright hue will go anywhere. And there are definately regional preferences for different cheddar types.  

We chose from the beginning to leave our hand-crafted cheddar natural. Aside from our no-added-extras commitment, our primary milk source is a grass-fed dairy. We enjoy seeing how the creamy hue of our cheddar shifts with the seasons and we know our fans feel the same.

So white or orange, the choice is yours!