Cheese Louise! Americans Can’t Eat Enough Cheese to Keep Up With Production

Cheese lovers will agree – you can never have too much cheese. Or can you?

According to Fortune magazine and other media outlets, America has a massive cheese surplus right now.

As much as Americans love cheese – we ate 37 pounds per capita in 2017 – more has been made than we can consume.

Approximately 1.4 billion pounds of American, Swiss and cheddar cheese are currently sitting in cold storage across the country.

Will USDA Step in Again?

Now, this would not be a big problem if much of the excess cheese were being exported to other countries.

But cheese exports to China are down by 63 percent and down to Mexico by 10 percent.

Domestically, Americans are not getting as much processed cheese anymore. That’s due to more people getting natural and imported cheeses.

A similar cheese surplus occurred in 2016. That’s when America’s cheese inventory reached its highest level since 1984.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) stepped in to help back then. It obtained 11 million pounds of cheese to use in federal nutrition assistance groups. But there’s no assurance the same thing will happen this time around.

Processed Cheese Less Popular

National Public Radio says there is enough of a cheese surplus right now to wrap it around the entire U.S. Capitol building.

Andrew Novakovic is a professor of agriculture at Cornell University says:

“What has changed – and changed fairly noticeably and fairly recently – is people are turning away from processed cheese.

“It’s also the case that we’re seeing increased volume of… more exotic, specialty, European-style cheeses. Some of those are made in the U.S. A lot of them aren’t.”

Drinking Less Milk These Days

The current surplus actually began a few years ago. Mainly because milk production started to exceed consumption.

While milk production has increased by 13 percent over the past 10 years, Americans are drinking less of it than in the past.

The USDA says that we drank 149 pounds of milk per capita in 2017. That might seem like a lot. But about 40 years ago, we drank 247 pounds per capita.

Now, there is always extra milk. And that’s not a problem because it is turned into cheese. But there is less demand for processed and string cheeses these days.

Dairy Farmers Suffering

OK, so there is too much cheese sitting around, not being eaten. How does that affect our lives?

For one thing, it means the value of milk and cheese will drop. That might sound fine, but it’s not good for dairy farmers and it’s not good for the overall economy.

The current average for milk across the country is too low for dairy farmers to break even.

Wisconsin is known as the cheese state. They are really feeling the crunch. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that hundreds of Wisconsin farms closed in 2018.

A Little History: Kraft Leads the Way

Popularity of cheese really began in the early 20th century with a man named James Kraft. Him and a few others figured out how to keep cheese from spoiling in warm temperatures.

It worked by melting traditional cheeses and mixing them with emulsifying salts. The outcome was a cheese-like product.

This new food could be made cheap because it was made from the rinds and leftover bits after the cheese was cut into bricks.

The U.S. military proved to be one of Kraft’s biggest customers. During World War I, they got 25 million quarter-pound tins of cheese from Kraft.

A 2-Step Dehydration Process

Those numbers were dwarfed during World War II. The Quartermaster Corps got 100 million pounds of cheese from Kraft Cheese. Not to mention 500,000 pounds of cheese spread.

As the military was doing with other foods at this time, they dehydrated the cheese and put it in K rations and C rations for soldiers.

The key to dehydrating cheese without ruining it was to do it in two steps. First, they dried it at a low temperature, which hardened the surface proteins.

Then, they ground the cheese and dehydrated it at a higher temperature. Finally, it was formed into “cakes.”

Cheetos for the Win

A few years after World War II ended, businesses such as the Frito Company (later Frito-Lay) introduced the first cheesy snack food.

These chips were made with the same Wisconsin cheddar the Army had been using for its dehydrated products.

The evolution continued and the final result was a snack many of us love despite its lack of nutrition – Cheetos.

Now, I don’t know if there is a surplus of Cheetos out there. But next time a spouse or friend gives you grief for eating Cheetos or some other cheese-related snack, tell them you’re doing your part to help the economy.


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