Tuesday, February 09, 2016


My friend Paul Armstrong has made another food video, this one demonstrating how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. And, just like last time, I was launched into the food differences of two countries. Plus a bit more.

First, the more: Who cuts crusts off bread?! Aside from Paul, I mean (and he got some teasing about that). The lady who I sometimes called my “adopted grandmother” used to make lunch for me on Fridays while my mother ran errands and such. She told me to eat my crusts. “It’ll make your hair curly,” she said. I had no idea why she thought I wanted curly hair, but I ate my crusts, anyway, because I liked them.

So, apart from the crust removal, another thing I noticed is the white bread. I’ve rarely had white bread since I was a little kid, and now nearly always have some sort of multigrain bread because I now prefer bread with something to it. But, that’s all about preference and taste.

The thing that captured my stares was the cheese. “Ya know," I commented on the video, “after all these years I'm now surprised every time I see American cheese and how orange it is—ours is a pale yellow (and our butter is a deeper yellow than American butter). Interesting how different such things are.”

But I realised as a result that I had no idea why American cheddar is so orange in colour. A New Zealand cheesemaker once told me that New Zealand cheddar was the colour it is—a yellow ranging from pale to golden—because dairy cows in this country are grass fed. He said that's the same reason that New Zealand butter is a pale yellow and US butter is nearly white (American cows get dry feed).

He was right about why New Zealand cheddar is yellow, but it didn’t answer the question as to why American cheddar is that shocking orange colour. Turns out, that’s complicated.

The orange colour comes from ground Annatto seeds, which are tasteless and used as a colouring agent. On this point all the sources I found agreed, but there’s some disagreement as to WHY they do it.

The consensus is that the colour was added to standardise the colour of cheese from batch to batch, particularly because cheese produced at different times of the year will have a different colour due to the different diets of cows. NPR said it may even have come about because of what they called a “17th Century Fraud”.

A less sinister reason was offered by Jeanne Carpenter of Cheese Underground, who speculates it was a marketing move to distinguish Wisconsin cheddar from that made in the East of the USA. New England in particular didn’t use colouring.

Kiwis often ask me about the USA’s “orange cheese”, usually with a screwed up nose and general grimace. “What’s THAT about?!” they often add. Now I know, and you do, too.

Tonight I made us grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner (photo below). I used multigrain bread (crusts intact) and New Zealand Edam cheese, which is a pale yellow colour, a bit paler than Tasty, the medium variety of factory-made cheddar we sometimes buy, and it has about 20% less fat than Tasty cheese, too—which I promptly ruined by frying the sandwiches in butter.

That brings me to my final question: Why is it called “grilled cheese” when it’s actually fried? It turns out: “Grilling usually involves a significant amount of direct, radiant heat, and tends to be used for cooking… quickly”. It differs from frying in the higher heat and the shortness of the cooking. Apparently. A “grilled cheese” sandwich would typically be made on a griddle, though most people—me, my mother, Paul in the video—use a fry pan.

And all that is because a friend made a tongue-in-cheek video about making a grilled cheese sandwich. I love the Internet.

Bon app├ętit!


Paul Armstrong said...

Thanks for including my video! Love you discussion on the differences. Your sandwiches look yummy. I'm sure they were good!

Arthur Schenck (AmeriNZ) said...

Thanks for making it—seriously! I like to use videos as a way to introduce topics I want to blog about, and sometimes—like this time—a video leads me to related topics. But to have a video from someone I actually know, well, for me it doesn't get any better: I love supporting my friends' work!