Update, May 3, 2016: Glorious news. It turns out that under the USDA’s definition, “natural American cheese” is an umbrella category that includes cheddar, colby, Monterey, and Jack, while Kraft singles and the like fall under the separate domain of processed cheese, which would not be included in the monthly cold storage report. Credit to Lucas Fuess, an eagle-eyed dairy analyst at Glanbia Foods, who spotted my taxonomical blunder. This makes our growing national cheese surplus much more pleasant news—the prospect of slightly cheaper cheddar and Jack isn’t exactly a downer if you’re, say, a national restaurant chain like Chili’s that likes to smother your food in the stuff—but I’ve left the original article intact below, for posterity.
The words “cheese surplus” should be inherently joyful—sort of like “birthday cake” or “birth of your first child.” And yet I am having trouble mustering much glee over the news that U.S. cheese inventories have reached a 30-year high of 1.2 billion pounds, because for the past year it seems we’re mostly stockpiling a whole bunch of American.
U.S. dairies have been losing sales to competition from Europe, where an oversupply of milk has driven down the price of cheese and butter and a falling euro has made exports more competitive. (Imagine what Donald Trump would have done with this news before the Wisconsin primary.) As a result, more American product is piling up in warehouses—about 122 million additional pounds found their way into cold storage last year, according to the USDA. As Bloomberg recently put it, we’re “sitting on a mountain of cheese.”
Unfortunately, most of that increase last year—91 million pounds of it!—was American cheese, our national supplies of which increased by about 14 percent. Our stocks of Swiss barely budged, while supplies of all other cheeses in storage jumped by about 7 percent, or 31 million pounds. This is dispiriting. While Kraft Singles certainly have their place—namely, melted on top of a burger, or in a grilled cheese sandwich—American cheese is already quite cheap, and we probably don’t need much more of it in our diets. An overabundance of the stuff won’t do us many financial or culinary favors.