Feeling cheesy? January 20th is National Cheese Lovers Day!
The first cheese known to man is believed to have been invented around 8,000 BC when sheep were used for domestication. The pilgrims brought cheese with them to America during their first voyage on the Mayflower across the Atlantic Ocean in 1620 according to the International Dairy Food Association.
Today the United States of America is ranked 2nd in the world for production of cheese with around 6 million metric tons made in 2019, after the European Union. The global cheese industry was worth $69.7 billion in 2019 and is estimated that it will be worth $112.8 billion by 2025.
The average American eats 35 pounds of cheese every year. The world’s largest cheese was once presented at Wisconsin Cheese Foundation for the 1964 New York World’s Fair on January 20th, 1964. The cheese came in at 34,000 pounds and required 170,000 quarts of milk from 16,000 cows according to Evening Tribune.
Nutritionally, cheese has a number of properties that are considered good for you such as calcium, protein, vitamin A, and vitamin B12 according to the Dairy Council of California. Like with anything else, moderation is key.
The Impact of Wisconsin on Cheese in the United States
Wisconsin is the leading state for production of cheese, which shouldn’t be too surprising if you know anything about cheese heads. According to the Wisconsin Historical Cheese Society, it all began with Charles Rockwell in 1837 and the growth of the industry was often in conflict with wheat in the 1800s. In the 1870s, leaders in the cheese industry joined forces to create professional organizations and refine their craft, the most popular one was The Wisconsin Dairyman's Association.
Like much of American history, immigrants played a major part in cheese production in Wisconsin with Swiss cheese. Mozzarella, provolone, and gorgonzola were brought by Italians. The Germans brought Limbur and Muenster. The English brought cheddar. Brick and colby cheese were actually invented in Wisconsin. Over 2,800 farms existed in Wisconsin by the 1920s.
Now we have access in America to cheese from around the world easily at our fingertips whether it is at a local grocery store, restaurant, or online.
The COVID-19 Pandemic and Cheese
Like everything else in the food industry, the pandemic has led to wild changes in the cheese market. Passionate calls for patriots to buy cheese have emerged in Britain, France, and Canada.
High-end cheeses have been the biggest losers of the pandemic as cash-strapped Americans switch over to cheaper cheeses they may have shunned prior to the pandemic. Retail demand soared between 20 to 30 percent and caused prices to skyrocket.
The U.S.D.A. has purchased more than $330 million worth of cheese between April and May 2020 to try to stabilize demand and prices which were rocked by the pandemic and unpredictable stay-at-home orders.The food purchases have been donated by the government to nonprofits and food banks to help those who need it most, according to USA Today.
The American Cheese Society shared in May of 2020 that businesses suffered a “58 percent decrease in overall sales, many businesses do not have the financial reserves to sustain themselves for months. Managing cash flow, obtaining financial support, as well as managing staff adds complex challenges that have resulted in 71 percent of survey takers applying for debt relief or financial assistance to stay afloat in this new reality. Thirty percent have either laid off or furloughed employees, and 48 percent have reduced employee hours.”
If you have the means to support independent cheese farmers, please do.
Fast Food and Cheese
As the fast food and restaurant industry grows, cheese has been a big part of it and how menus are evolving often involves cheese. You’ve probably noticed a much more wide-variety of cheeses on the menu starting in the 2010s just like the appearance of bacon on everything and now plant-based meat and dairy products.
“Years ago, you would see something like Asiago only at white tablecloth restaurants. Now you find it at Wendy’s”, says Larry Lamb of Lactalis Culinary. China and India are expected to play a big role in the growth of cheese as they continue to grow. China’s imported volume is expected to pass 200,000 metric tons by 2024 according to Dairy Reporter.
Noodles World Kitchen, a fast-casual restaurant chain, reports that their most popular dish is actually their Wisconsin Mac & Cheese, telling Eat This, Not That!, "We serve more than 10 million bowls every year".
When looking to pair cheese with different foods, consider the texture of the cheese and the richness of the cheese.
Here are some basic pairings of popular cheeses for your reference:
- Cheddar - sausage or fruits such as grapes or pears
- Gouda - country ham, chicken, hot peppers, salted almonds
- Havarti - apples or pears
- Gorgonzola - cranberries, cherries, apricots
- Mozzarella - tomatoes with balsamic
Due to the complexity of cheese, you’ll also find numerous beers, wines, and other beverages that will enhance the cheese you are eating. The possibilities are truly endless when it comes to enjoying cheese in the comfort of your home. Don’t forget jams, honeys, and deli meats such as salami or prosciutto to make a complete cheese board. Don’t be afraid to search online for tips.
My favorite way to enjoy cheese is actually in Cuban bread as a tostada or Cuban toast as it is known. Usually pressed with swiss cheese and plenty of butter, but every place makes it different and the key is great bread. There is also nothing like a swiss cheese and genoa salami sandwich for lunch.
Looking to cook some dishes with cheese? Here are some great cheese-centric recipes to enjoy in your home:
- Penne with Five Cheeses
- Ultimate Gourmet Grilled Cheese
- Three Cheese Quesadillas
- Birria Quesatacos with Consome
- Saganaki (pan-seared Greek cheese)
- Baked Ziti
As Avery Aames once wrote, “Life is great. Cheese makes it better.”
What’s your favorite cheese? Let me know in the comments!
Sources: Evening Tribune, International Dairy Food Association, Dairy Council of California, Homesteading, Statista, Wisconsin Historical Society, BusinessWire, QSR, Bloomberg, Eat This Not That, Dairy Reporter, USA Today, American Cheese Society