Skip to comments.How 17th Century Fraud Gave Rise To Bright Orange Cheese
Posted on 11/09/2013 4:31:29 AM PST by NYer
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.
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."
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.
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."
Now we have a 21st century fraud pushing government cheese.
At my local supermarket here in Russia, they started selling Irish cheddar cheese (imported). They had white and orange (Coloured) cheese. I bought a block of each. I preferred the orange cheddar because it was softer and sliced better. The “natural” white tended to crumble when cut...
The interesting thing is that the beta carotene is found inside the chloroplasts, which means that the greener the plant, the more chloroplasts. And alongside the beta carotene inside the chloroplasts is vitamin K1, which most animals can convert into K2.
The result is that the more beta carotene in the butter or cheese or egg yolks, the more vitamin K2 it contains. Butter and cheese and egg yolks from animals that never eat freshly growing green plants are pale, unless artificially died, and are almost entirely lacking in K2.
Which is why the Standard American Diet is almost entirely lacking in K2, because nearly all of the butter and eggs and cheese are from animals that are fed grains.
And since it’s K2 that activates the hormones responsible for calcium deposition. One is responsible for pulling calcium out of the blood and into bones and teeth, and the other for removing calcium from soft tissues and putting it back into circulation.
In other words, it was the move to feeding animals on grains that was the primary reason for the massive increase in both atherosclerosis and osteoporosis during the 20th century.
Weston Price had figured all of this out, 70 years ago. Consumption of high-quality animal fats - from animals that are grazing on grass, not on grains, is essential to human health.
Very interesting post. Are there any foods naturally high in K2?
The Kerrygold brand?
Fascinating! Does this lend credence to the difference in purchasing “free range” chickens?
Quite interesting. Thanks for the info.
Ain’t that the cheese!
I don’t think it was Kerrygold. (I looked at Kerrygold’s lable on google, and didn’t recognize it). Unfortunately, I’ve eaten all the cheese, so I’ve no package to look at.
I’ll probably get more the next time I go shopping and can post the brand if you’re curious.
BTW, cheddar is not really popular in Russia. Not sure why...
The margarine people must have learned this from the cheese makers. Margarine without coloring looks like white like a slab of lard.
Allright, who cut the cheese?
Ich bin ein Limburger.
The War on Fats, in general, has not been good for people.
Though now portrayed as bad, fats are an essential part of our diet, and always have been. Fats are the most concentrated form of energy, and even some vitamins can only dissolve in fat.
Yes, the artificial (hydrogenated) fats are not so good for us, but the natural ones present in plants and animals are - and necessary.
I was just curious. It is the only K2 cheese I can get at my locale. And the fact that a small dairy cartel can ship to either ends of the earth, even in the age of sonic shipping, gives a sense of wonder.
Are there any foods naturally high in K2?
There are two sources. Herbivores can make it out of fresh grass, so you can find it in their fats - in the butter of grass-fed cows, in the spring and early summer, and in the egg yolks of pastured chickens, in goose liver pates, etc. And certain fermenting bacteria can make it, so you find it in certain cheeses (brie and gouda), and in this nasty fermented soybean mess called Natto, that the Japanese eat for breakfast.
The low-fat crowd looks at the French and wonders why they don't get heart disease, despite their high-fat diet. The low-carb crowd looks at the Japanese and wonders why they don't get heart disease, despite their high-carb diet. Maybe it's not how much of one vs. the other you eat, but whether the foods you are eating is rich in K2?