Off the fork: Do cows give orange milk?

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO |

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO | Macaroni and cheese is the classic American comfort food.

The United States has its share of dubious food traditions. Packaged pork rinds, the Happy Meal and turducken spring to mind. But don’t blame America for orange cheese — we did not start it.

Paul Kindstedt, an expert in the history of cheese, reported in his 2012 book, “Cheese and Culture,” that pale cheeses were dyed orange by Dutch and English cheesemakers in the 19th century for marketing purposes — possibly to mimic the very high-fat cheese made from the milk of grass-fed Guernsey and Jersey cows. Later, the practice became common in Ohio, Wisconsin and parts of New York, as orange cheese was associated with high quality imported cheeses.

In the 21st century, orange is still the color most commonly associated with cheese in the U.S. It is not, however, the color of most cows’ milk. Today, almost all commercial cheese is dyed orange.

Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton makes orange cheese the old-school way. Art Ludlow, owner and cheesemaker, said there are two factors that account for the yellow to orange color of many Mecox cheeses — beta-carotene and bacteria. Mr. Ludlow said a washed-rind cheese such as Sunrise Mecox will have “a reddish, orange rind caused by a very specific bacteria that gives the cheese its characteristic flavor.” In the summer months, the Mecox cows eat grass, and the beta-carotene in the grass results in yellow milk; a natural color that is a hallmark of the fine cheeses made from this milk.

Mecox Bay Dairy is one of the East End producers packing the new Riverhead Farmers Market every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mecox offers an award-winning array of aged cheeses, made from the milk of their grass-eating Jersey cows. A handful of one of the Mecox cheeses, Sunrise, Sigit or Farmhouse Cheddar, is the natural way to give your macaroni that classic orange look.

Old-School Macaroni
and Cheese

Yield: Approximately 4 to 6 servings.

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups dry elbow macaroni

1 large onion

4 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

6.5 ounces (approximately 2 cups) coarsely grated cheese -— use at least three kinds, one of which is orange.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bring two quarts of water to a boil and add the salt. Cook the elbows “al dente” — about two minutes less than the cooking time on the package. Drain and set aside.

Dice the onion and sauté in 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat, stirring frequently until the onion is caramelized — completely soft, brown and sweet-smelling. Set aside.

In a 2-quart sauté pan, melt the rest of the butter over a medium flame.

When the butter melts and gets foamy, stir in the flour, cooking until it is light brown.

Whisk the milk into the butter/flour. The mixture will thicken as the milk is incorporated and heats up.

Add the cheeses to the milk mixture and stir until the cheese is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the cooked onions, reserving 2 tablespoons. Remove immediately from the flame and stir the drained elbows into the cheese mixture.

Scrape into a buttered, 2-quart casserole. Sprinkle the reserved onion on top.

Bake uncovered for 35 minutes at 350 degrees until the macaroni and cheese is firm and lightly browned.

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