This morning, the Wall Street Journal FINALLY picked up on the story that is quite intriguing to most foodies and the people who have bought into the Loren Cordain/Gary Taubes hypothesis that Ancel Keyes and his minions were dead wrong about fat when they latched on to the idea that animal based cholesterol was what was causing heart disease. (The latest medical studies are busy debunking Keyes, actually.) See, it’s been reported lately that the United States is sitting on a mountain of cheese – a glut, the WSJ says – and those of us who actually shop at the grocery stores for cheese and other assorted dairy products are wanting to know why the prices aren’t coming down if there is an abundance at this time. The clues come from Bloomberg with this blurb:
European dairy products are so cheap right now that the U.S. itself has become the new No. 1 customer for some products — imports of EU butter doubled last year and rose 17 percent for cheese, according to the European Commission. All that excess supply is building up in U.S. refrigerators, especially as American dairy production heads to a record this year.
And this comment from the New York Daily News (emphasis from this writer):
Bloomberg reported today that America is sitting on a mountain of excess cheese — roughly 1.2 trillion pounds of the stuff is in inventories, up 20% since 2014.
And this isn’t that nice Yuppie cheese from non-cow animals. It’s mostly American cheese. The stuff that even we don’t want to eat.
We’re getting grilled has to do with the global currency market. Now maybe you’re not a Harvard MBA (full disclosure: I’m not a Harvard MBA), but it works this way: the euro is in steep decline right now — down nearly 18% since this time two years ago.
Okay, so now we know the cheese glut is actually two-fold since the Wall Street Journal was a little more forthcoming with what cheeses have been stockpiled in the United States other than the plastic sort: cheddar, feta, and other offerings that are freezable and have a long shelf life if kept really cold. Put that against a low exchange rate, next to no tariff, and the reality that European cheeses and butter are produced from grass fed animals for the most part, which increases the nutrients in the final product, and health conscious Americans who realize that the French paradox where they eat far more saturated fat and have a quarter of the heart disease is not really a paradox, but the way humans SHOULD be eating, Americans are just taking advantage of a good thing. (There is nothing better than range free eggs cooked in European butter. Really.)
See, Americans eat only about 30 pounds of cheese a year, half that of the French, which is counter-intuitive when you look at our waistlines. But that’s changing: Over the last 20 years, milk consumption has dropped 17% while increase in cheese consumption has been 41%.
But what sort of cheese are we talking about? Nacho and Velveeta don’t count in the good stuff. Yes, it melts well, but so does a creamy cheddar and baby Swiss. American…yeah, no. Plus, what are we eating with it. There isn’t much that’s going to pack on the pounds like simple starches. And milk…is it whole milk from free range livestock or skim from a factory farm? That’s the big question.
Yes, there is a glut of American made cheese out there right now, and the majority of it is yellow American cheese. The question for the USA is are the food production people going to take the hint that Americans are taking advantage of a low exchange rate to eat good, healthy cheese and butter which happens to be imported, and improve their own product to reduce inventory. We’ll have to wait and see.
Full disclosure: this writer lives in a household where fresh milk and butter are delivered from a local diary where mass production factory conditions do not exist. We also consume specialty cheeses quite often, most of which are American made, although French Brie, English and Australian cheddar, and Danish Havarti appear for special occasions. No, it’s not cheap, but it sure tastes good.