What color is your cheese?

The color of the foods we eat can reveal a great deal about how they may benefit our health. And in some cases, it gives us a peek into the history of certain foods

Today, I pose a question that may seem rhetorical at first. But the answer actually has a lot to do with science.

So I must ask you, dear reader, “What color is your cheese?”

It’s rather an important question since the color of your cheese tells you a lot about its nutritional content.

Allow me to explain…

Farmers dye dairy to achieve a rich, golden hue

Dairy farmers started using cow’s milk to make butter in 13th century England, by simply skimming fat from the milk. (Before that, they used sheep’s milk.) And it was quite expensive.

Butter with a golden hue was considered to be high-quality. The color came from the carotenoid-rich grasses, which cows historically consumed during the late spring and early summer. (I made some of the original scientific discoveries about the health benefits of carotenoids back in the mid-1980s).

And to consistently achieve this color in butter, dairy farmers began dying it with plants such as marigold (which itself is a botanical remedy for injury and chest disorders).

Eventually, as more fat was skimmed to make butter, less fat was leftover for cheese. And the cheese, therefore, began to contain fewer carotenoids and color. And thus, the regular practice of dying cheese began…

A rainbow of cheddars

The tradition of dying cheese appears to date back to Leicestershire cheese, the original ancestor of today’s cheddar. In 17th century England, all cheeses looked similar. And the dairy farmers of Leicestershire wanted a way to distinguish their own product. So, they began dying it with annatto — a technique that’s still used today.

Annatto is an orange-red powder derived from the seeds of the achiote tree, which is native to Central and South American tropical regions. It imparts a yellow or orange color to foods. It also has a slightly peppery scent with a hint of nutmeg. And it tastes slightly nutty, sweet, and peppery.

The color of annatto actually comes from norbixin, a carotenoid found in the reddish, waxy coating of the seeds (as with nutmeg).

By the late 19th century, mid-western cheesemakers in the U.S. began dying their cheese to compete with imports from Europe.

Then during WWII, cheese dying stopped due to wartime restrictions, so white Leicester cheese was born. After the war, the practice of dying resumed, and orange-hued Leicestershire cheese became known as Red Leicester, leading to the modern popularity of orange cheddars.

Today, in the U.S., the color of cheese depends a lot on regional preferences. For example, in the northeastern parts of the U.S., orange cheddar isn’t very popular. (Think white New York or Vermont cheddar.)

But in the midwest, orange cheddar is preferred. (Think Wisconsin “cheese heads.”)

Of course, you can find hues of orange, yellow, and even red in not only cheddar — but also in Colby, Gouda, Muenster, provolone, Swiss, and other popular cheeses.

Though today, many conventional cheese-makers must dye their cheese because their cows are no longer grass-fed, so their milk doesn’t contain those healthy carotenoids (but can be found in some of the dying agents).

Of course, cheese is a significant part of the Mediterranean Diet, which also includes plenty of fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and wine. Although, as I said yesterday, nutritionists and health experts seem to ignore its significance. Probably because it doesn’t fit into the mainstream narrative to avoid fat (even healthy fat).

But men and women who follow a truly traditional Mediterranean Diet add cheese to just about everything — including salads, vegetables, soups, and meat dishes. Traditionally, it’s eaten before and after meals. (Of course, as I often report, only opt for full-fat dairy for an added nutritional boost.)

Soon enough, you’ll begin to reap the health benefits of regularly incorporating it into your diet. In fact, as you may recall, a recent study found that men and women who ate three servings of dairy daily had a significantly lower risk of suffering a cardiovascular event — such as heart attack and stroke.

The takeaway here is this: Aim to get three servings of full-fat dairy a day — including cheese. Just make sure it comes from grass-fed animals, as it will contain more healthy carotenoids, CLA, and fat.

So, do as they do in the Mediterranean — and add cheese to your meals. You can even enjoy a rich piece of cheese and a glass of wine for dessert!

To learn more about how the Mediterranean Diet can benefit your heart health — as well as additional all-natural strategies for preventing and reversing heart disease — refer to my Heart Attack Prevention and Repair Protocol. Click here to learn more about this online learning tool, or to enroll today.

P.S. On Friday, I’ll tell you about another important reason why I always opt for cheese from grass-fed, free-range animals…and why you should too.


“Do you know…why is some cheese orange?” Dairy Good (dairygood.org) 10/14/18