Thursday, 9 June 2016

TASE Day: Why American Cheddar is Orange

-or- Why We Have Always Been Susceptible to Marketing

Today on Janet Reid's Blog, the conversation drifted off-course into the realm of colouring lard and oleomargarines yellow to resemble butter in the first half of the 20th Century.  (These things happen on the Reef.)

It reminded me of a bit of history I learned on my first job as a Living History docent. Sometimes Nature needed a little assistance when it came to aesthetics.

In Summer, when the cows had plenty of fresh grazing, the milk would come out nice and rich in colour. The resultant cream and therefore butter, would have a nice, yellow cast to it. Beautiful and tasty-looking.

In the Winter, when cows relied on fodder (dry hay, etc), the colour was rather pale and unappetising. So, when we made butter in Winter, we'd grate a carrot, soak it in water, and use this carotene-coloured water when washing the butter. This gave a nice, golden summery colour to the butter, which would, in turn, sell better.  (This was in the 19th Century.)

Because people believed quality was accurately affected by appearance, they'd believe  the yellower butter was the better one, and would pay a higher price for it.

Same thing went for cheese. When you set milk with rennet to make cheese, if the colour of the milk was pale, the cheese would come out pale. But if you mixed in a bit of that carotene-water before you set the milk with rennet, the cheese would come out with a more golden colour.

This cheese always sold better. So manufacturers started colouring it all the time.

Gradually, over the course of a few decades, the brighter-coloured cheese sold better than the paler cheese. So up went the colour palatte until we have the fluorescent orange American Cheddar you all know and love today. The colouring is completely artificial and purely a marketing tactic. It wasn't until recently (and a change in the perception of image = quality) that so-called "white cheddar" made a re-appearance (at a  higher price, of course).

Really, white cheddar is exactly the same as your orange cheddar, only without the added orange colouring.

Her Grace has a secret addiction to history.

1 comment:

abnormalalien (Jamie A. Elias) said...

I have occasionally wondered about this; thanks for answering the question I never verbalized!