Why is cheese yellow? I’ve heard this question a lot of times, both from kids and adults alike. I myself have wondered why cheese is yellow and what the heck they do to create cheeses of varying hues and tints of yellow.
Cheese is typically represented as a yellow dairy product. If cheese comes from milk, and milk is white, why is cheese yellow?
The thing is, cheese goes beyond just yellow. We see a plethora of colors: from the white mozzarella to a pale yellow Emmental to a bright orange Mimolette. Look at the photo above and you can even see green and brown cheeses.
In most cases, the cheese color is an index of quality. Sometimes it’s merely cosmetic.
Carotenoids, the main indigenous pigments in milk, play a key role in the color of the cheese produced. Since cheese is predominantly milk, the color of milk affects the color of the cheese.
The carotenoids come from the animal’s diet. If a cow eats grass and carotenoids are present in grass, the cow transfers the carotenoids to its milk. That’s why cheeses made from cow’s milk are yellow.
However, for cheeses made from goat, buffalo or sheep milk, the color is not yellow but white. Even if these animals also eat grass, they cannot transfer the carotenoids to their milk. So their milk is whiter compared to cow’s milk.
Now, why are some cheeses orange? Well, that’s a different story. Some cheesemakers add annatto to impart a yellow to orange color to cheese.
Others infuse flavorings like wasabi thereby creating green-colored cheese like this Landana Wasabi, a mild Dutch cheese.
Lastly, what’s this famously brown cheese Brunost?
Brunost is a Norwegian dairy product from whey and not the curds. It’s the result of boiling whey for several hours. Technically speaking, cheeses are curds so brunost isn’t exactly a cheese.
Some recipes of brunost combine milk and/or cream with the whey while it simmers. The heat converts the milk sugars into caramel, which gives the cheese its brown color.
It’s from a blend of cow and goat’s milk and has a taste that’s smooth and caramel-like.
You know what? I have yet to see a pink-colored cheese! That will be the day!