What Is White Cheddar?

H. Bliss
H. Bliss
Mild white cheddar is made without annatto or another coloring agent.
Mild white cheddar is made without annatto or another coloring agent.

White cheddar is a variety of cheddar cheese that has not been colored, so it is generally off-white to slightly buttery in color. The commonly known yellow cheddar cheese is yellow because of an added colorant that varies by cheese maker, but is often annatto. This type of cheddar is used in many cooking applications. It can be served sliced on a sandwich or cracker, shredded on a salad, or melted in soups and baked pasta dishes. Cheddar that is not colored can also be called Vermont cheddar, even if the cheese and its ingredients have never ventured anywhere near Vermont.

Like other true cheddar cheeses, this cheese is typically pliable but hard and slightly crumbly. Although it is called white cheddar, changes in the properties of the cow's milk used to make it can cause color variations that makes some uncolored cheeses slightly yellow. Uncolored cheddar cheese is made by many a variety of cheese companies and is readily available in the cheese section of most grocery stores.

This type of cheese usually comes in mild, medium, and sharp varieties. Some manufacturers make extra sharp cheddar as well. Sharp white cheddar cheese is aged for longer than the milder cheeses, and it tends to be harder and more crumbly than those with less sharpness.

White cheddar bears many similarities to yellow cheddar, including similarities taste, texture, and cooking behavior. It can be regularly substituted in recipes calling for yellow cheddar cheese. The flavor of white cheddar is generally nearly identical to yellow cheddar of the same type, and chosen over the more common yellow varieties mainly for appearance and presentation purposes. Cooking with white cheddar is essentially just like cooking other types of cheddar. When heated, white cheddar produces a stringy, gooey melt that will start to bubble, then cook to a crisp if cooking continues after the cheese melts.

Though it is a relatively rare allergy, some people eat white cheddar because they are allergic to the color agents used to give yellow cheddar its color. Annatto is naturally reddish-orange to yellow-orange in color. Other foods that may contain annatto are many, but include margarine, potato salad, and popcorn, in addition to many other types of cheese. Some manufacturers use other colorants in addition to annatto to fine tune the colors of their cheeses. Though annatto can be used as a spice, the amounts used in cheese making are not usually enough to noticeably influence the flavor of the cheese.

White Cheddar VS Yellow Cheddar

While it may seem like there must be a difference in taste between white and yellow cheddar, this is not the case. White cheddar is the cheese in its natural state, while the yellow version has coloring added. In most cases, this coloring is annatto, a natural substance. Some cheesemakers also use paprika to give the cheese a yellow-orange color. Depending on the brand, cheesemakers might add artificial food coloring. While annatto or paprika can color cheese, there are some differences.

  • Annatto: This seed comes from the achiote tree in central and south America. It can be ground into a powder and used commercially. Butter, cheese, margarine, and packaged foods often use annatto for coloring.
  • Paprika: This spice comes from chile peppers and can be sweet, spicy, or smoky. Depending on how you grind the peppers, the taste may vary.

Annatto is added to cheddar to give the cheese a uniform look throughout the year. Otherwise, the appearance of the cheese may vary due to the cow's eating habits. Also, studies show that people prefer yellow over white because it appears to be more appetizing. However, the amount of color added does not affect the taste of the cheese.

White cheddar shows imperfections more readily, and cheesemakers add coloring to give the cheese a more desirable look. This fact was accurate in the seventeenth century when cheddar cheese was deep yellow to slightly orange due to the milk. This color came to be known as a hallmark of high-quality cheddar cheese.

As time has gone on, consumers are more used to the appearance of yellow or orange cheddar. However, when you shop for these cheeses, there are hundreds to choose from in various shades. The only factor that generally affects the taste of cheddar is age, not color. Therefore, the choice between yellow and white cheddar comes down to preference.

The Difference Between Sharp and Mild Cheddar

When it comes to cheddar cheese, the difference in taste comes down to aging. Mild cheddar cheese is generally aged 2 to 3 months, while sharp cheese ages up to a year. You will likely find several levels of cheddar cheese, and they all taste slightly to very different.

  • Mild Cheddar: This cheese is aged for the shortest time and has a subtle, creamy taste. The texture is generally smooth and does not crumble easily. If you need cheese for melting, mild cheddar is an excellent choice.
  • Medium Cheddar: This variety is aged a bit longer than mild cheddar. Therefore, it has more flavor. This medium cheese is also an excellent choice for melting and slicing.
  • Sharp Cheddar: This cheese has a distinct flavor and is stronger tasting than mild or medium cheddar. It ages longer than medium cheese, sometimes up to a year. It can melt well, but you will need to add extra heat to do so.
  • Extra-Sharp Cheddar: Aged the longest, this cheese has a bold, prominent taste. It is the sharpest cheddar and does not melt well. It crumbles easily. If you are looking for a cheese to eat without melting or slicing, extra-sharp cheddar is a good choice.

There are various cheddars for your needs and preferences. It depends on your tastes and what you plan to do with the cheese. You may even find some cheeses aged even longer than extra sharp or somewhere in between mild and medium.

Some are better than others when it comes to melting, so if you need a cheese that melts readily, a mild or medium may be better than an extra-sharp. Cheese comes in various flavors and ages, so keep this in mind when shopping for your next cheddar.

What Makes Cheddar Cheese White?

As mentioned, any cheddar cheese that does not have coloring added, whether due to annatto, paprika, or artificial food coloring, is white to pale yellow. The cheese may be white or yellow. It depends on the brand and region. For example, cheddar in Vermont or New England is typically white, while the cheddar in Wisconsin is usually a deeper yellow.

White cheddar cheese depends on the season and what the cows are eating. Cow's milk can range from white to yellow, depending on what they eat and what farmers feed them. The grass cows graze on contains beta-carotene, imparting a yellow look to milk. When you make cheese, the milk affects the color. However, farms now give cows a more uniform diet, and uncolored cheddar is white. Modern white cheddar cheese does not taste different from yellow cheddar.

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Discussion Comments

anon931634

The information in this article is technically true, but what about the flavors of white cheddar in food compared to regular, like smartfood white cheddar, or white cheddar cheez-its or laughing cow? There is a distinct difference in that and I'm wondering what it is. Does anybody know that?

umbra21

I really love sharp white cheddar cheese, there's nothing like it. Particularly on a really nice cheese platter with some crackers and grapes and maybe a bit of salami as well.

I've always wanted to go to a cheese tasting event to have a range of those kinds of cheeses and try some other ones. It's good to know that the difference between white cheddar and other kinds of cheddar is just a dye though, or I might have made a fool of myself!

Mor

@KoiwiGal - Well, it is actually a natural dye, made from a type of seed and it gets put into a lot of things. It actually has a bit of a different flavor, so I think you can tell the difference between cheddar with it and cheddar without it without looking at the color.

I looked up the history and it actually comes from a practice in England, where the best cheeses were made from cows that had high levels of beta-carotene and so produced an orange colored cheese. People with inferior cheeses would use the dye to make them look like they were the same quality.

If anything, annatto actually has health benefits as it's known to be an anti-oxidant.

KoiwiGal

I'm not from the States and one of the things I found really weird was the fact that the cheddar cheese over there is dyed such a weird color. I am used to the "white cheddar" being the only variety being sold and, at the most, occasionally you would see processed cheese that was a dark yellow or orangey color, but that was it.

For a while I thought it was a completely different kind of cheese, but eventually realized it was just cheddar with some dye. I really don't understand why it gets done, because it just looks completely unnatural to me.

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    • Mild white cheddar is made without annatto or another coloring agent.
      By: manuart
      Mild white cheddar is made without annatto or another coloring agent.