The United States’ supply of excess cheese has hit an all-time high.
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently reported a surplus of 1.4 billion pounds of cheese. Dairy production has increased in recent years even as dairy consumption has declined, resulting in the greatest cheese glut in U.S. history.
NPR reports that milk production has increased by 13 percent over the past decade. Meanwhile, Americans have been consuming less dairy. For instance, Americans drank only 149 pounds of milk per capita in 2017, whereas they drank 247 pounds in 1975.
Dairy producers turn excess milk into cheese since it has a longer shelf life. But changes in consumer demand for cheese are also contributing to the country’s record supply of it.
“What has changed — and changed fairly noticeably and fairly recently — is people are turning away from processed cheese,” Andrew Novakovic, professor of agricultural economics at Cornell University, said. “It’s also the case that we’re seeing increased sales of kind of more exotic, specialty, European-style cheeses.”
According to MarketWatch, Americans ate a record 37 pounds of natural cheese per capita in 2017.
The U.S. had a similar cheese surplus, 1.2 billion pounds, in 2016. The excess dropped cheese prices — great for consumers but bad for cheese producers, whose incomes had dropped by 35 percent over the previous two years. To prop up prices, the USDA purchased millions of dollars in cheese and distributed it to food banks.