Why Is Some Cheddar Cheese Orange?

The explanation starts with Jersey and Guernsey cows.

There’s so much to love about cheese. And while some of us may count Gouda or American cheese as our favorite, cheddar cheese is often the most popular choice of all. You know cheddar can range from sharp or mild with a creamy texture. But why is cheddar cheese orange?

If you’ve ever wondered about this while making mac and cheese, here’s the explanation.

Why Is Cheddar Cheese Orange?

Beta-Carotene in Grass

Several centuries ago, English cheesemakers produced cheese with a yellow tone thanks to the milk from certain cows. These cows, often Jersey and Guernsey breeds, ate a lot of grass that was packed with beta-carotene, which gave the milk an orange-yellow tone.

Back then, cheddar cheese with a yellow hue was seen as a sign of quality. But as fraudsters have existed in some form for centuries, cheesemakers would use carrot juice or marigold to color their pale cheese and make it look higher quality. The tendency of adding color to cheese stuck around—and now most of us think cheddar cheese is supposed to be orange!


Of course, in the modern era, most cheesemakers aren’t coloring cheddar with marigold or carrot juice. Nowadays, people mostly use annatto, a food coloring made from the achiote tree, which gives it that orange hue we look for. The idea is not to change the flavor of the cheese at all, but to make the color more of what history has told us to expect.

Is All Cheddar Cheese Orange?

Nope. Some cheesemakers, particularly in the northeastern United States, choose to produce to white cheddar cheese. That won’t affect the flavor of your cheddar cheese recipes, though it might confuse your brain a bit. If your cheese of the month club sends you a block of white cheddar, don’t worry—it’ll still have a familiar flavor and texture.

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Aly Walansky
Aly Walansky is a lifestyles writer with over a decade of experience covering beauty, health, and travel for various esteemed publications. Her blog, A Little Alytude (www.alytude.com) was launched in 2006 and continues to be a strong voice in the lifestyles arena. Based in the ever-trendy Park Slope area of Brooklyn, she divides her time between her shih tsu Lily, her soap opera addiction, and scouting out fun new martini bars.