Martha recently revealed that an old-fashioned slice of American cheese is one of her go-to guilty-pleasure snacks. But apparently, not everyone feels the same way: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there is a 1.4 billion-pound cheese surplus—the largest in American history.
And while this might sound like the perfect insurance for the cheese-obsessed, it's not so good news for dairy farmers. The current stockpile is in large part due to the fact that the rate of milk production has surpassed that of consumption, NPR reports. According to the USDA, Americans consumed only 149 pounds of milk per capita in 2017, versus 247 pounds in 1975. Typically, excess milk gets turned into cheese slices and string cheese, but to make matters worse, Americans are straying from processed cheese, too.
So what exactly is driving Americans' changing dairy habits? Experts say it could be the rising popularity of veganism, including a major interest spike in alternative nut milks. Or perhaps, as Andrew Novakovic, a professor of agricultural economics at Cornell University told NPR, it’s because more consumers have been swapping out processed cheese products (like the classic American slice) for specialty European-style cheeses.
Either way, the dairy decline has producers scrambling to figure out what’s next. Even Wisconsin, the country’s cheese capital, was forced to close hundreds of farms last year, per the Wall Street Journal. On top of all that, suppliers also have retaliatory tariffs from U.S. trade disputes to worry about.
Luckily, the solution could be as simple (and as delicious) as—you guessed it—eating more American cheese. As Martha can attest, there's a time and a place for processed cheese. If you’re looking for ways to indulge, our test kitchen’s ultimate grilled cheese, classic cheeseburger, and mac and cheese recipes are three tasty places to start. And from a consumer's standpoint, there is an upside to the surplus: American cheese is now selling at much lower prices. How’s that for a reason to treat yourself?