What Is Red Cheddar?

Lee Johnson

Red cheddar is cheddar cheese which has been colored so that it looks more orange or red in color. This is usually done using a natural dye called annatto, which is found in trees in South America and the Caribbean. Generally, red cheddar will taste roughly the same as white cheddar, but the color is added to the cheese to differentiate it from other varieties. Technically speaking, cheddar has to be created using a process called “cheddaring,” which takes its name from the caves in which cheddar was originally made in the 12th century.

Annatto seeds, which are used to make red cheddar.
Annatto seeds, which are used to make red cheddar.

All cheddar cheese, including red cheddar, has to be created using a process called cheddaring. The first cheddar cheese was made in Somerset, England in the late 12th century. The cheese was left in the caves of Cheddar, a small town, which had the perfect conditions for maturing cheese. Cheddaring is the process of turning the curds and stacking them up in a way to drain off the most whey possible. This process creates a harder cheese and means more cheese can be created from the curd.

Red cheddar.
Red cheddar.

Double Gloucester cheese was naturally orange in color, and this was a high quality cheese, which encouraged other cheese makers to color their cheese in the same way. This coloring essentially created the false impression that the other cheese was also high quality. Generally, annatto, which is a natural dye derived from the annatto tree found in the Caribbean and South America, was used to color cheddar-like cheeses such as Red Leicester. Annatto was banned in the UK around the Second World War, which stopped production of red cheddar cheeses, but was allowed again in the 1950s. It is now still used to make various types of cheese.

Historically, cheddar cheese was left to mature in caves.
Historically, cheddar cheese was left to mature in caves.

As with many other cheeses, this type of cheddar can be sold at varying levels of maturity. Maturity is how long the cheese is allowed to rest before being sold. The longer the cheese rests, the stronger a flavor it will have. Mild cheddar is usually sold after three months, mature cheddar at nine months, and some vintage varieties can be sold after over 18 months.

The flavor of red cheddar is usually slightly nutty and can even be sweet in some cases. Maturing time can have an effect on flavor, so mild cheddars are usually creamier than mature cheddars. The most mature cheese will also have an increased nuttiness and more general complexity of flavor. The cheddar can be grated or sliced before being added to dishes.

Unlike red cheddar, white and yellow cheddar cheeses are made without annatto or another coloring agent.
Unlike red cheddar, white and yellow cheddar cheeses are made without annatto or another coloring agent.

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