Saturday, November 02, 2013

Orange Is Not Yellow

Pumpkins. We all know what color jack o'lantern pumpkins are. They're orange. Any little kid with a box of crayons knows this. Orange, orange, orange.

If you had gone into your local supermarket in October, and asked the produce manager why he put out all those yellow pumpkins, he'd have squinted at you with please-go-the-bakery-and-bother-someone-else eyes, and tried to appease you by telling you that the pumpkins were not yellow, that summer squash over there is yellow, those onions in that bin are yellow, the lemons are yellow, the Yellow Delicious apples in the apple display are yellow, but the pumpkins are not. They are orange.

And he would be right.

Now it is true, that in olden days, in Gloucester, the cattle in pasture ingested a flower known as "Lady's Bedstraw" (galium verum) and that their milk was a sometimes a dark yellow because of it. But you'd think that pretending that darker-colored cheese was superior to lighter-colored cheese was something we'd have grown past after 500 years.

But no, we haven't. At the bottom is Nob Hill white sharp cheddar cheese. I've loved it and used it for more than 20 years, when I couldn't get SaveMart's New York sharp cheddar cheese. They were comparable, good cheeses which made my homemade macaroni and cheese a family favorite. SaveMart stopped offering the white cheddar a few years ago, so I went to Raley's to get the Nob Hill white cheddar, buying it 4 pounds at a time.

Not just for the mac and cheese, but also for tacos, enchiladas, nachos, football game noshes, and puffy cheese croissant appetizers. Not to mention putting it in refried beans and black bean chili -- so very yummy.

Well, time passes and the powers that be in Raley's marketing department dumped the white cheddar staple, going exclusively to cheddar cheese the color of the pumpkins in the first picture. I bought the last two packages of the white cheddar last week.

It's billed as "yellow" cheddar, but it's not yellow, it's ORANGE. A vegetable dye called annatto is added to it to make it orange.

Does it taste the same? I suppose it does, mostly. I'm reminded of an experiment I did with purple potatoes, making them into mashed potatoes. I put a pat of butter on the lavender mound of mash, and my stomach did a quick turnover. It wasn't nasty, it was just ... not what mashed potatoes should look like. I closed my eyes and I tasted potato, for sure, but I've never tried to serve that to the family again. So the orange cheddar may taste approximately the same, but it isn't THE SAME.

To get annatto into the cheese, do you sprinkle it on top? Do you feed the annatto to the cows who are producing the milk to make the cheese? Of course not, it would ruin the milk, and certainly wouldn't turn out that orange.  And sprinkling it on top would do nothing but color the top. So instead of letting your cheddar sit and cure and sharpen, you MIX -- you PROCESS -- the annatto into the cheese. The result is a rubbery feel, almost like Velveeta.

To their credit, both Raley's and SaveMart offer some top-shelf sharp cheddar cheeses that are white, imported from Ireland and Australia -- but are just a bit pricey for heavy duty use. Fortunately Trader Joe's carries a sharp cheddar called Cabot, from Canada, white, not heavily processed, delicious and crumbly at the edges. That's the cheese at the top of the picture, my new go-to cheese.

I'm waiting to see if the next phase of Annattization produces orange brie, or orange gouda, or what would you think of orange bleu cheese? Orange mozzarella? Orange pecorino romano?

Makes as much sense as orange cheddar.

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