The cheesepocalypse is upon us.
Determining what to do with a large quantity of cheese sounds like a problem we should all be so lucky to have. But for the American dairy industry, the solution is a lot trickier than just throwing a giant fondue party.
At 1.39 billion pounds, the nation's cheese stockpile is at it largest since regulators began keeping track 100 years ago, The Washington Post reports. That's six percent larger than last year, and 16 percent larger than in 2016, when the USDA offered to purchase $20 million worth of cheddar and donate it to food banks in an attempt to help reduce the cheese surplus.
So why are we sitting on a mountain of cheese? It's...complicated. To start, Americans are abandoning milk (we drink about 37 percent less of it than we did in 1970, according to the USDA), thanks to factors like the rising popularity of milk alternatives, concern surrounding childhood obesity (which has caused some schools to stop distributing it), and recent questioning of its health benefits (we may not even be that well-equipped to digest milk). Basically, dairy processors have more milk than the public is interested in buying, and milk is more easily stored as cheese.
Some of America's recent cheese indifference is seasonal. School cafeterias are closed for the summer, and restaurants typically serve lighter fare this time of year. Plus, cows are at their most productive when the days are longer (aka right about now).
And then there are Trump's steel and aluminum tariffs, have which caused countries like Canada and Mexico to retaliate with their own taxes on Wisconsin cheese. As other nations work out trade agreements that grant each other more open access to their markets, the U.S. dairy industry is finding itself further isolated in an increasingly competitive global economy. Our cheese stockpile could reach crisis levels if more countries who have traditionally imported American dairy products turn elsewhere. “One milking day a week goes to the export market,” as Michael Dykes, president of the International Dairy Foods Association, told The Washington Post. “There's a lot of uncertainty now. I don't think we really know what will happen yet.”
(May we suggest... eating more cheese?)