Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cheese Coloring - Always an Option

Sometimes, you just want a little color!


1.  Many folks who grew up on store-bought cheese, particularly the processed kind, are used to the orange color.  This is especially true for children who don't understand the concept that cheese can be white and still taste as good as the orange type they're used to.

2.  There are many cheeses that are traditionally orange and if you wish to honor that tradition, you will want to color your milk.

3.  If you like to put out cheese plates and cheese hors d'oeuvre, the end result can be more appealing when there are different shades of yellow and orange present.

Of course, it's completely optional.  There is never any reason why you have to add color.  In fact, some folks are actually allergic to annatto.  So, you may have a good reason not to use it.

What kind should I use?

Liquid annatto is the best choice for home cheese makers.  It is actually the seed of the Achiote tree which may be found in tropical climates.  (Yes, we know you are a do-it-yourselfer and you would rather make your own coloring, but, there really isn't any reason to.)

Annatto is a natural product with no preservatives and it has been used for thousands of years to color cheese.  It is inexpensive and readily available from any cheese making supplier.  (Like us, of course!)

You may use powdered annatto if that's all you can find, but you will need heat to dissolve it evenly, so you can add it during pasteurization.  Or, if you don't pasteurize your milk, you can dissolve it in hot water, cool it down and then add it to your milk.  Here's an interesting thread at Rick Robinson's Home Cheese Making Forum about using annatto powder from the supermarket.

If you still aren't convinced about the need for annatto, you can use carrot juice, but it has a carrot flavor and it has 100 times less beta-carotene than annatto.  Other ideas (like food coloring) are so acidic that they may interfere with the curding of the milk.

How do I use it?

1.  Buy it from a home cheese making supplier, (like us, again!) so you know you have the right concentration to start with.  Many beer & wine making stores sell cheese making supplies, so, you might be able to find this product near you.  (Note:  Be sure to get water soluble cheese coloring for cheese and fat soluble coloring for butter.  We currently sell only the water soluble kind.)   

2.  Store it at room temperature, away from sunlight.  Like rennet, it loses strength over time.  We have found that after 6-9 months, it may precipitate into dark crystals, which means it has lost effectiveness.

3.  Dilute it in 10-20 times it's volume of water before you add it to your milk.

4.  Add it to your milk before your rennet. You may add it either before or after you add calcium chloride to your milk, but it is a good idea to keep 10 minutes in between the two.  We recommend the following:

Add the annatto first and stir in well while heating the milk. Then, add the calcium chloride when the milk is warm, followed by the culture.   Let the culture ripen the milk and then add the rennet. This gives it all plenty of time to mix well - becoming diluted and neutralized.

How much do I use?

Well, this is where you need a little faith.  After you have added your coloring, you will not see the change until the curds have been completely drained.  

Even then, you will not be completely able to tell how deep the color will be until the aging process has ended.  The color increases as the acidity increases (from the bacteria eating the lactose) and as the cheese shrinks due to dehydration (especially with a natural rind cheese.)  Therefore, the moister the cheese, the less apparent the color will be.

However, there is no need to be discouraged!  You are not alone in the dark!  Many home cheese makers have come before you, so there are well-established guidelines to follow.  These are our recommendations: 

We have found that 1-1.25 tsp per gallon will generally yield a deep orange cheese, even with high fat milk. 

For a mild gold color, such as in a Colby, 1/4 tsp per gallon is enough.

(Note:  Our little 2 oz bottle of annatto will color from 10 - 48 gallons of milk.)


You can get a mottled (or marbled) effect by coloring half a batch of your cheese and mixing the curds together when you put them in the mold.  This is admittedly a lot of work because you are essentially making 2 simultaneous batches of cheese.  However, the end result is stunning.

You can either make two different cheeses (like Colby and Jack) and mix them together, or you can simply make one cheese with two different colors (like marbled Cheddar).

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