Colouring The Cheese
Wilton Cheese does not use artificial dyes to add colour to the cheese. Instead, the pulp from the Annatto plant is used to give our cheddar the orange colour.
Bixa orellana / Fam Bixaceae
Annatto is used both as a spice and a dyestuff in many culinary items. In the West it is used to colour confectionary, butter, smoked fish, and cheeses like Cheddar, Leicester, Cheshire, Edam, and Muenster. Annatto is an effective and completely natural colouring.
The Annatto shrub is indigenous to the Caribbean and Central America, with shiny heart-shaped leaves sometimes with reddish veins. An attractive pink flower made it popular as a hedge plant in colonial gardens. The fruit capsule is heart-shaped, like a beech pod, with opposing clefts and red prickly spines. When ripe, the pod splits in half to reveal about fifty seeds encased in a red pulp.
Annatto is commercially grown for the dye product and for its seeds as a spice. The plant requires a tropical setting in loamy soil at altitudes below 1,000m (3,000 feet). The ripe fruits are collected and macerated in water, settling the dye. Once the dye is collected it is dried into cakes and the seeds are separated and washed. The Wilton Cheese factory uses a liquid version of the dye as it is added to the milk during our make process.