America is drowning in American cheese—and cheddar, Swiss, and other varieties, too. The country’s cheese surplus just hit 1.39 billion pounds, or as Vox puts it, enough to "arm" every man, woman, and child in the U.S. with 4.6 pounds apiece.
Our obsession with slathering everything in cheese isn’t to blame, though. U.S. dairy manufacturers have been producing too much milk for a few years now, and when there’s excess milk, it gets turned into cheese to make it last longer.
In 2014, dairy farmers started scaling up their operations in response to high demand for powdered milk from China’s growing middle class. When China’s economy started to slow a couple years later, American dairy producers were left with too many cows and too much milk. On top of that, the European Union made it more difficult for U.S. cheese producers to do business there. By 2016, the U.S. had 1.2 billion pounds of extra cheese on its hands, and since then, stockpiles have only grown.
The problem is compounded by the fact that greater surpluses of milk and cheese tend to be seen in the summer, when demand is lower, and high-yielding cows (a product of genetic improvements) produce more milk in the springtime.
So what can be done about this cheesy conundrum? In the past, the Department of Agriculture has bailed out dairy producers by buying up millions of dollars of excess cheese and distributing it to food banks. Whether the department is once again willing to drop that much cheddar remains to be seen.