Grab a cracker. The United States has amassed its largest stockpile of cheese in more than 30 years. In fact, there is so much cheese and butter in the U.S. right now, it's unclear what the government will do with it, Bloomberg reported Friday.
Cheese inventories in March were the highest for the date since 1984, USDA statistics show. American cheese makes up more than half of the supply, while Swiss cheese accounts for 2 percent. The rest is just marked as "other" by the government.
Europe is to blame, or, um, thank for the U.S.’ abundance of cheese. An oversupply of milk, plunging prices and a weakened euro have helped European Union suppliers of dairy products grab markets in Asia and the Middle East, depressing U.S. sales. Butter exports are up by 27 percent in the EU, and cheese exports grew by 13 percent, according to the European Commission.
The U.S. has been snapping up cheese from Europe because of the cheap prices. Imports of butter from the EU doubled last year, while cheese imports climbed by 17 percent, according to the European Commission. At the same time, American dairy production is seeing a record year.
"It's been difficult for them to export given the strong dollar, and they're sucking in imports," said Kevin Bellamy, a global dairy market strategist at Rabobank International in Utrecht, Netherlands. “Where the U.S. has lost out on business, Europe has gained.”
That doesn't mean European dairy farmers are happy about the cheese extravaganza. Sinking milk princes in the EU have dropped to the lowest levels since 2010, and the low prices could put many dairy farmers out of business. Russia's 2014 ban on most dairy products from the EU, the U.S., Australia and Norway has also disrupted diary prices. The ban came after Western governments instituted sanctions against Russia for its involvement in the ongoing Ukraine conflict between Kiev and pro-Russian rebels.
American dairy farmers have also raised concerns about the influx of foreign dairy products driving down domestic prices and profits.
Whatever the solution, it isn't as simple as asking everyone to do their part and eat some cheddar. Despite warnings from the government about a growing obesity crisis, Americans love cheese. Total U.S. per capita consumption of natural cheese grew for the third straight year in 2013, according to the International Dairy Foods Association in Washington, D.C. In all, Americans eat about 33.7 pounds of cheese every year. Italian and cheddar cheese are the most popular cheeses, followed by Swiss, other American cheeses and Hispanic cheese.