Market Watch Diary: Please Pass the Cheese

May 3, 2012 10:31 AM
Market Watch Diary: Please Pass the Cheese

In the USA, cheese consumption has grown from 2.3 billion pounds in 1970 to nearly 10.5 billion pounds in 2011.

JerryDryer blueWith Jerry Dryer
Long, long ago, when Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey, she was probably enjoying cottage cheese.
Today, from coast to coast, American consumers are enjoying a wide spectrum of curds formed into Cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan and more than 700 other varieties of cheese.
And thanks to the creativity and hard work of cheese-makers in the U.S., more and more of the cheeses being munched on by Americans are homegrown. We are now routinely enjoying cheeses that were once made only in cheese-savvy Europe.


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Cheese plant expansions

U.S. cheesemakers, in fact, are now exporting cheese to Europe—a great success story and very supportive of the milk price. This success was an evolution, not a revolution. And it has been very kind to you and your milk check.
Forty years ago, about 20% of your milk went into cheese; today that amount is 45%. And many more times than not, the cheese price has been the driving force behind a higher Class I price.
Flip back to the 1970s: Women were joining the work force in larger numbers than had been seen since World War II. Mom-and-pop pizzerias became a resource for dinner, not just a snack after a movie. With more people working, the fast food business (aka McDonald’s) began to get traction. Homemakers went to the grocery store looking for quick and easy meals: frozen pizza, mac and cheese in a box, "TV" dinners. Mom, the traditional cook, put Dad to work in the backyard grilling on weekends and maybe even a weeknight or two. Everything seemed to taste better with cheese.
Cheese marketers responded with their answer to quick and easy: sliced processed cheese, then shreds and cubes and crumbles, then natural slices. Cheese was no longer just a snack: It became a condiment, an entrée, a side dish, a salad topping and a frozen pizza fortifier.
Much of this action revolved around the old standby cheese varieties: Cheddar and Swiss. That is, until well-traveled Americans (frequently the offspring of affluent, two-income households) came home from Europe looking for Havarti, Asiago, feta and…you name it.
A number of other forces converged and a growing number of cheese-makers had a long list of incentives to start making unique cheeses. They were quick to replicate the stellar European varieties, but soon cheese-makers were also creating entirely new cheeses.
The bottom line in this history lesson: In the U.S., cheese consumption has grown from 2.3 billion pounds in 1970 to nearly 10.5 billion pounds in 2011, which is the latest data available from USDA.
Another half-billion pounds of cheese were exported last year, including 7 million pounds of cheese shipped to consumers in Europe.

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