Announcing Orange Cheddar!
Tired of boring old pale cheese? We are, too! Now you can try the newest product from Shelburne Farms: Orange Cheddar!
An April Fool's joke? Only partly.
We just made this very special raw milk cheddar in time for April 1st. In spite of its Day-Glo appearance, this is the same farmhouse cheddar you know and love. It just has one tiny amendment: annatto. This seed, harvested from the achiote tree (native to the American tropics), is rich in carotenoids, which lend a yellow-orange hue to cheese and other foods (like yellow rice).
Coloring cheeses orange actually has a long history.
In 16th century England, around the time of the advent of modern Cheddar, the best makers in the country produced cheese with a natural deep yellow hue. The yellow was evidence that their animals were on pasture eating grass rich in beta-carotene (the same pigment that gives carrots their color). Cows are unable to process the carotenoids, and it gives their milk a more yellow-orange tint. If you've ever had a container of unhomogenized, pastured milk, you'll see this pigment concentrate in the cream that rises to the top.
Here's where things got interesting – and more than a little shady. Cheesemakers looking to get two products from the same milking would skim cream from their vat to make butter, and then make cheese with the remaining skim milk. But they'd add coloring to the cheese so that it would still appear to be of the highest quality. Saffron (which was abundant and inexpensive at the time) was an early cheese colorant in the British Isles. It yielded an orange cheese that looked like an exaggerated version of cheese made from summer pasture. Later, annatto was adopted, which is still used in classic English Farmhouse cheeses like Double Gloucester, Red Leicester, Cheshire, and Shropshire Blue.