50 Shades of Cheddar

Unless you’re from England or a hardcore cheese-fan, when you think of the cheddar cheese, most likely, the color of it will be yellowish or orange. A week ago, I saw a post with a white cheddar and I immediately, and quite arrogantly, thought to myself “oh, they even whitewash cheddar these days”. But it made me think about something I never thought before.

Royalty-free cheese photos free download | Pxfuel

Did you ever ask yourself why some cheeses are white while some are yellow or orange? Like, milk is white and so is yogurt. So how come butter becomes yellow? Seeing a white cheddar cheese made me question everything I knew, along with realizing how much I actually don’t know about the colors of cheeses.

So, I asked the all-mighty Google, how does the color of cheese is determined. And it gave me the answers through the following 3 books.

  • The science of cheese – Michael H. Tunick
  • Cheese: a global history – Andrew Dalby
  • Grass-fed cattle: how to produce and market natural beef – Julius Ruechel
The Science of Cheese - Michael H. Tunick - Oxford University Press
Cheese: A Global History - Wikipedia
Grass-Fed Cattle: How to Produce and Market Natural Beef: Ruechel ...

Why are some cheese white and some yellow/orange?

The simple answer to that is because of a compound hidden in the grass which is called beta-carotene. This is what gives some of the orange vegetables like carrots and squashes their color. “Cows transfer carotenoids (β -carotene and related compounds) from their diet to the milk, where they bind to the fat.” explains Michael H. Tunick in his book, The Science of Cheese.

So, when the cows have a grass-based diet, the beta-carotene is unleashed in the fat of the milk and therefore in the butter and cheese. That’s why most butter and some cheese types are yellow and it’s completely natural. It’s important to mention that this natural phenomenon only happens with cows but not with goats, sheep or buffalos. Even among the types of cows it differs. While Jersey and Guernsey cows can transfer the beta-carotene much more effectively to their fat, other varieties can’t.

Jersey Cow Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures
Jersew cow

This is why the original cheddar cheese had a yellowish color to it. But around 17th century that started to change due to the raising prices in milk. Cheesemakers started to separate the cream from the milk to produce butter which resulted the end product of the cheddar to lack the fat and color due to this.

But it wasn’t long until the customers caught up with the trick. The color orange became the quality indication for cheddar cheese. White cheese meant low fat, therefore bad quality. To overcome this problem, cheesemakers started adding dyes to their cheese to make them orange so they were able to keep their profits. When cheesemakers started to migrate to America with their know-how, this trick traveled with them.

File:Cheddar cheese making (1895) (20417140569).jpg - Wikimedia ...
Cheddar production in 1895

In America cheddar kept on being produced the same way until the 19th century when the industrialization of the cheese begun. With the production switching from farmhouses to factories, the coloring of cheddar became more important to standardize the product.

Milk was coming from different types of cows from different places. On top of that, more and more cows were given a hay and grain-based diet as it was cheaper in production. Neither hay nor grains have beta-carotene, so cows started to lack that color naturally in their milk and fat.

Dosya:Tacos-al-Pastor.jpg - Vikipedi
Al Pastor
Mexican variatıon of Döner Kebab

With the cows’ diet changing to a hay or grain-based diet, it wasn’t possible for the producers to compete with the rest of the products in the market. The coloring of the cheese started as a trick to cover up bad quality cheese but became an industry standard during the 20th century in America. Today the most commonly used colorant is annatto (achiote) which is a heavily used ingredient in the Mexican cuisine. It’s even used in some of the Al Pastor type Döner Kebabs to give its bright red color in the marination of adobo.

Burger Burgers Food - Free photo on Pixabay
Before 2010, Cheddar was the most sold cheese in America

With its new makeover, cheddar went to conquer the world. Today, it’s a fairly standard product when you think about the color. It’s a yellowish orange like how it was 400 years ago. With a few moderations of course. The color is an important aspect of food. Even today, when people are given the exact same cheddar cheese with different shades, most people say that they prefer the taste of the orange one. Even though the tastes are the same, the color does change our perception and therefore our experience we get from the flavors.

Cheddar is not a usual cheese in the sense of the worldwide success it receives. It’s the go-to cheese for cheeseburger and you can find it in almost any major supermarket in the world, in some form and that is partly thanks to its rich history and partly to the industrialization of it. Once the most prized English cheese by Daniel Defoe for its taste, now the favorite of millions of people for its affordability. Once, a cheese that would be sold before it was made, now a dip sauce for chips. I guess that shows that the demand for cheddar is the only thing that didn’t change in the last 400 years.


Thanks to this research hole I fell in, I learned so much more about not just cheddar but cheese in general. What started as a short Instagram post became this article and even though I couldn’t find a place for them, I’d like to share some other things I learned thanks to this research:

  • The yellow fat in the beef is not something to be afraid of, in fact it shows that the cow had a grass-based diet.
  • Cheddar is a village in England and I should go visit the Gorge caves one day to see how they’re aging the cheddar cheese there, the old way.
  • Colors of the products might not always tell the truth.
  • Beta-carotene is rich with Vitamin A so a naturally yellow cheese probably is going to help me have a better eye sight.
  • Since around 10 years, mozzarella is sold more than cheddar, which might mean pizza is getting more famous than cheeseburger.

From a Train Station to the most important Market in Guanajuato: Mercado Hidalgo

The entrance of the market

What do you do with an overpriced train station project in the edge of a civil war? Well, if you’re the last president of Mexico before the revolution, you turn it into a market. 

While we were taking the stairs, there were workers polishing the new wooden steps

Today, Mercado Hidalgo is one of the most important touristic sights of Guanajuato. It’s pretty much in every touristic guide or on the ‘top-I-don’t-know-how-many-things-to-do-in-town’ list. Knowing this, I went there to see what’s the whole fuss is about. Traveling in Mexico for the last 3 months, I had my fair share of experiences in markets. They’re the best places to observe people, how they shop or how they eat. They’re all sort of unique in their own way but Mercado Hidalgo caught me off guard, even though most of it was under renovation. 

Guanajuato

Even before entering the market, facing its entrance, you can see that this building doesn’t really belong in this city and is not going to be a traditional market. Guanajuato is a beautiful city that has different layers in it. There are tunnels running through the city for human and car traffic. That changes the dynamics of the city and the architecture. There are not so many big buildings except the church or Teatro Juárez.

Immediately after entering, I felt like this place was not built to be a market. It looked like a market, it smelled like a market but there was something off about it. The red metal construction was separating this building to the other ones in town or any of the other markets I’ve seen in Mexico. There was something weird about this building. 

Mercado Hidalgo

I didn’t visit this market knowing the story behind it. I just went there because it was something I’ve been told to by the influencers or the city guides. I took my pictures inside with the question in my mind, “why is this building so different?”. At the exit (or entrance), at a very inconvenient spot. I’ve spotted this little information: 

Not very satisfying after saying that it was supposed to be a train station! Why didn’t the train come to Guanajuato? WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TRAIN, GUANAJUATO?  

WHAT 

HAPPENED 

TO 

THE  

TRAIN!? 

Well, I made a small research to learn what happened.  

This market has the key to understand a lot of the Mexican history. If you don’t know anything about the Mexican history, let me help you a little. Mexico has 2 huge events in its history. The first one is the Independence and the second one is the Revolution.  

It took me a while to actually understand the difference and the importance of each because I learned this history from the museums I visit. The easier way to separate them is that during 1800’s they fought the Spanish and in the 1900’s they fought themselves. So that’s why the first one is called the Independence (as in from the Spanish) and the second one the Revolution (if you know the Zapata movement, this is from the Revolution). 

Miguel Hidalgo portrayed in the Regional Museum of Guanajuato Alhóndiga de Granaditas as the breaker of chains by José Chávez Morado on his mural ‘Abolición de la Esclavitud’

Going back to the Mercado Hidalgo, it’s important to know some bits of this history. Miguel Hidalgo was a Mexican Roman Catholic priest that lived between the years of 1753 – 1851. So which era is it? Yes, in the Independence

Traveling in Mexico, I saw his name in so many streets that I can’t remember. I was wondering who he was until I learned it in the Regional Museum of Guanajuato that he was the leader of the Mexican War of Independence (which is why his face is on all of the murals). His story is quite interesting but I’m not going more in detail. You just need to know that he was and probably still is a big deal in Mexico. 

Fast forwarding the time to 1905, when Eiffel and his metal constructions was a big deal in the world. On top of those being a big deal, Mexico back then was particularly interested in the French stuff because of a man named Porfirio Diaz who was the president of Mexico for 30 years. He is liked and disliked by a lot of people till this day. He is liked because he helped Mexico to be connected to the world and disliked because… well, he was a dictator… It’s not a surprise why he wasn’t liked, really.

Porfirio Diaz portrayed on left, sitting on the golden chair on a mural in Museo Nacional de Historia, Castillo de Chapultepec by Juan O’Gorman‘s “La dictadura y la represión

Porfirio Diaz, along with connecting Mexico to the world, he also helped Mexico to be connected inside. He cared deeply about the trains. He increased the length of the train tracks from 640km to 24,720km by the end of his second term already.  

In the beginning, this project was welcomed by the folks of Guanajuato thinking that a train coming to their town would have a boost on their economy. The train already arrived to the state of Guanajuato, but not in the city. It was passing through the flat lands like Leon. Guanajuato City, due to its positioning and altitude, was left behind in the train projects

Porfirio Diaz commissioned the buildings design and construction to Ernest Brunel (French) and Antonio Rivas Mercado (Mexican) (also, yes, his last name is Market. This place was destined to be a market) in a metal construction inspired by Eiffel’s designs. That is why the station looks like it doesn’t belong to the rest of the city in most cases. During his time, Porfirio Diaz tried to create a different Mexico, a more European Mexico to be exact. In Mexico City, he succeeded the most.

The train never arrived to Guanajuato City. The project got more and more expensive at a time when the government didn’t have the necessary resources. In an attempt to win the people of Guanajuato, Porfirio Diaz made a change in the plans. So, the project that was commissioned to be a train station in 1905, got inaugurated as a market in 1910. Conveniently, Mexico was celebrating the 100th year of their Independence so calling this new market with Miguel Hidalgo’s name (who’s an Independence hero as you remember) was appropriate. 

Noting is more important than food. It never was and it never will be. You need to be alive and fed to take a train, produce things and buy more. Train and the train station lost its meaning to the people of Guanajuato as they realized that the project was taking so much money. What better way to win the hearts of people, than making a brand new market. Especially in here in Mexico, where people spend more time in the markets than their churches.

After the market opening, Porfirio Diaz kept on losing power which led to the *drum roll please*, the Revolution war. So today, Guanajuato City doesn’t have a train station, but has a beautiful market thanks to this. It is a market where both locals and tourists get to visit on a daily basis, not far from a train station in that sense.

Uvas de la Suerte, The Grapes of Luck

Traditions and superstitions go along hand in hand since the dawn of time. It’s not easy to trace the reasons for most of the things we do today out of habit. Sometimes we see these actions since we were kids and they give us comfort, unites us. And what better way to be comforted but with food. How would you explain holidays like Eid al-Adha (or as I learned it Kurban Bayramı) for Muslims, Rosh Hashanah for the Jewish, Christmas for the Catholics, Diwali for Hindus or any other religious holidays that involve food that I’m not aware of or can’t remember? All these traditions revolve around food. Almost all famous religions have a sort of lent to remind their followers of the importance of food. Because everybody eats. In order for the continuation of human beings, we require 3 basic things: Water, Food and Sex.

Our water drinking traditions have remained pretty much the same way since the last couple of decades, depending on where you are. The same thing goes for sex. The sperm still has to reach the egg pretty much the same way. However, among these 3, there is food that can change drastically depending on where you are. How we consume it changes, how we perceive it changes, how we value it changes.

I’m not a believer in superstitions or traditions. Neither in the ones I saw my grand family followed, nor in the ones I saw on TV. I am against all sorts of fortune-telling as I’m a boring pragmatist. However, I know how to appreciate a good story. If I’m given enough reason, true or false, I’ll join the tradition. Because I like the humanly thing about traditions. Culture is the biggest differentiator that separates us from our primate cousins that like bananas way too much for some reason. We, on the other hand, have diverse feelings about bananas. 

Unfortunately, culture doesn’t pass through generations or through genes, but it does through stories. I value the stories over everything. And the reason I’m writing this is to share with you all a tradition, a superstition, a story I’ve learned in Mexico. One of the many stories I hope to share in the future.

The belief/superstition:

You have to eat 12 grapes starting at midnight and with the toll of each bell, you have to eat another one. It is bad luck to eat all of them one by one. By the end of the last chime, you have to be done with all the grapes and swallow them to obtain good luck in the new year. Otherwise, you’ll get bad luck. 

The first theory:

It’s believed that eating grapes at midnight started in France to celebrate the new year along with drinking champagne. Around early 1900, Madrid’s bourgeoisie copied the tradition and they started doing it themselves. After a while, Mexico caught up and started following it. Not certain where the number 12 started in this theory.

The second theory:

The grape farmers in Alicante, Spain, had a great year of production in the year of 1909 that they needed a new channel to sell their unexpected amount of grapes. So, they came up with creating a tradition out of. Now, the important thing to know here is that December is not the season for grape harvesting. Unless if you’re a farmer in Alicante, producing Aledo grapes.

What’s up with Aledo grapes?:

In Alicante, there’s a way to produce the Aledo grapes that helps them to have thinner skin, which helps them to be chewed and swallowed faster. The farmers wrap their grapes with white paper bags in June and July as they ripen. This technique started around the 19th century to protect the grapes from a plague of vine moths. Although it started out to protect the grapes, the farmers soon realized that thanks to the grapes being wrapped against the outside world, the grapes held more of their aroma and their color, had more uniform shapes and most importantly it slowed their maturation which helped them to be harvested much later than the other grapes. This is why even though the harvesting period for grapes is in September and October, they were able to harvest in November and in December. This grape and the production method now have Denominación de Origen (designation of origin, or D.O.) just like Champagne.

This is why these grapes are the best option for this tradition as due to their thin skin, they are easily chewed. 

How does a tradition become a superstition?

I learned that they still follow this tradition in Spain, but I’ve learned about it in Mexico. Families gather around during new years and try to eat 12 pieces of grapes with each chime of the bell. It’s not easy to narrow this down as everyone I talked to have a different opinion about this. But one of the most common answers I’ve received is that each grape representing the months of the year and for each one that tastes sweet, the following month will be a good/lucky month. Well, this means that with each one that tasted sour, it’ll be an unlucky month. It’s almost like grape fortune-telling. That’s probably where the name comes from. Uvas de la suerte, the grapes of luck. 

While researching, I found another way to ‘play the game’ and that is to have wishes with each grape you eat. I think this one is quite difficult and unrealistic as you can’t really think of anything while trying to jam grapes into your mouth one by one each second.

How to improve your luck:

Traditions are great ways for businesses to thrive. It’s no different with this one. Nowadays, you can find peeled, sorted grapes without seeds in packages of 12 in supermarkets. Because as I’ve experienced yesterday at midnight, your biggest enemy for completing this game/tradition is the thick skin and seeds of the grapes.

Even though traditionally, all the grapes from the Alicante region is with seeds, recently due to the demand in the international market, they started producing more and more seedless grapes each year.

As I’ve said, I’m not a believer in superstitions or fortune-telling. However, I happen to like grapes, being from the Mediterranean and all, and I happened to buy some before knowing this tradition. They were red and from Peru and had thick skin but I decided to tag along and act if I actually believed in this tradition as the bells started to chime at midnight.

I took the first one and bite it. It exploded it’s sweetness in mouth. January is going to be okay.

The second one, a little sour but still sweet. I need to be careful in February.

The third, maybe the sweetest of them all. March is going to be awesome.

The fourth, very sour. I’m not leaving the house in April.

I don’t remember the fifth as I started to giggle. May is going to be… fun?

The sixth, I couldn’t stop giggling. 

The seventh, at this point it’s not about the tradition, I need to finish what I started.

The eight and my mouth if jammed with half-chewed grapes.

The ninth, I don’t even know why I’m doing this. I don’t care how September is going to be.

The tenth, this has too many seeds in it.

The eleventh, I. Hate. Grapes.

The twelfth and I’M SO GLAD I’M DONE WITH THIS.

Having a toast for the new year with our last grapes

It’s a fun tradition as it’s no easy task to eat 12 grapes in 12 seconds. We failed to do it in the required time. No matter how I felt, I wanted to use this tradition to start something new. 12 grapes, 12 new months. Here’s to a year of learning, living, enjoying and sharing. In my case, for sharing new food stories and traditions I learn.

Have a tasty new year!