Cheese, cheese, glorious cheese.

Hey, Matt:

Yellow cheese. I have recently been informed that cheese is naturally white. That it never was yellow until someone went out of their way to color it. What's worse, I'm told they use artificial, petroleum-based colors! Who did it, when, and more important, WHY?

-- Yellow Cheese Believer for 26 Years, O.B.


I've heard that the cheese on pizza isn't real cheese. If that's true, what is it?

-- SD, up north

Hang on to your pepperoni, SD. There's a chance you could be eating what's known in the industry (and perhaps in the galley of the Enterprise) as cheese analog. It's a shredable, cutable, meltable substance made of vegetable fats. No dairy content at all. Never even been in the same room with a cow. Some cheap pizza uses this stuff, so maybe that's what your scare-monger friends are referring to. But the odds are your pie is actually topped with specially manufactured pizza cheese that is simply manipulated mozzarella-- real milk turned into real cheese that has special melting and stringing properties.

The feds have many different labeling slots into which they place cheese and cheese-like substances. One often found in the dairy case is called (by law) imitation cheese food product. But this does-- in fact must-- contain some real cheese along with other fats and milk solids. Cheese analog is the breakthrough product that contains no trace of what its name says it is, warning us perhaps of the advent of ice cream analog made entirely from mineral oil and egg whites or roast beef analog from discarded shoes.

And if you want to turn that stuff yellow, what do you use? Annatto. The dark red seed of the annatto tree. In Mexico it's called achiote and is used as a spicy flavoring. But if you just dunk the seeds in water, you get a natural red-orange dye. Yes, it's true, undyed cheese is some variation of white, depending on what the cows have been eating. The cheese-dye story usually goes, English Cheddar cheesemakers produced a golden cheese when the neighborhood cows ate grass. But when cow-raising involved more hay or grain feed, their milk became very pale and so did the cheese. People didn't think they were getting their money's worth, Cheddar-wise, so farmers slipped in a little carotene dye extracted from carrots. Now it's a characteristic color for that cheese (though there is white Cheddar), and for others like Edam and Gouda and pasteurized process cheese food and a little British number called Red Leicester that's filled with so much annatto it looks like a brick and tastes peppery. So don't fear the yellow cheese. Annatto's all natural.

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