It is rare that I abdicate my intro writing unless it is a guest post. The following is the transcript of a NPR article that I heard the other day and thought it was both interesting and appropriate. The original article is here.
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.
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.”
Orange…..white…I don’t care. It tastes great either way.
I used boneless thighs. It was a perfect match.
Orange cheese and breadcrumbs.
The butter is getting hot.
My dipping station is set up.
Ready for the oven.
I could eat this every week!
Garlic Cheddar Chicken
Prep Time: 15 Min | Cook Time: 40 Min | Makes: 8 servings
- 1/2 cup butter
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – pounded thin
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, and cook the garlic until tender, about 5 minutes.
In a shallow bowl, mix the bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, Cheddar cheese, parsley, oregano, pepper, and salt.
Dip each chicken breast in the garlic butter to coat, then press into the bread crumb mixture. Arrange the coated chicken breasts in a 9×13 inch baking dish. Drizzle with any remaining butter and top with any remaining bread crumb mixture.
Bake 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until chicken is no longer pink and juices run clear.
Amount Per Serving Calories: 406 | Total Fat: 25.2g | Cholesterol: 130mg Powered by ESHA Nutrient Database