Why does America have cheese caves?


Kaylee Higgins, Co-Editor-in-Chief

In Springfield, Missouri lies caves consisting of 1.4 billion pounds of cheese. Why? In 2019, the U.S. government decided to use limestone mines for cheese storage, and it continues to do so to this day. 

The US government’s dealing with a surplus of cheese started in the 1970 during  a national dairy shortage. Inflation on dairy products rose to 30% and in attempts to relieve the high prices that America was facing, the president at the time, Jimmy Carter, sent 2 billion dollars worth of funds to the dairy industry. Prices dropped and production increased, just as the government intended for them to do. However, too much was produced. 

As a result of the surplus, the government started to buy cheese that was not sold to keep prices down. Their supply of cheese grew to 500 million pounds by 1980. 

Starting in 1981, this supply was called “Government cheese”. The cheese was packed into five-pound blocks to be distributed to the public through the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program. 

The caves are now owned by big cheese companies like Kraft, Hilmar, Sopra, and more. 

This solution was effective, but only temporary as a new problem involving the cheese would arise later in 2019. While the average American consumes 667 pounds of dairy, which keeps this supply down, there is still an excess. 

At the time, the American government’s stockpile of cheese grew even larger to its current weight, 1.3 billion pounds. Consumption of dairy products dropped 126 pounds per capita from 1975 to 2017, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Adding to the mess, dairy production has risen 13% since 2010 and millions of gallons of milk are wasted each year. This urged the government to delegate the limestone caves in Springfield for their arsenal of cheese. 

The government also took to the media to advertise the benefits of drinking milk, intending to increase dairy consumption, creating the popular slogan “Got milk?”

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government bought billions of dollars of dairy in attempts to support farmers and the industry, which eventually led to increasing prices of dairy products on the market. 

According to the USDA, milk consumption is decreasing, following the new statistic from the National Institute of Health that 36% of Americans are lactose intolerant amid production increasing. Veganism is, as well. 

Given these ambiguous statistics, the question arises of what the future of the dairy industry and cheese caves hold. Will this strategy of storing cheese continue, or will there be a full resolve to this dairy surplus?

“The US must either find a better way to deal with its surplus of cheese, or stop subsidizing its overproduction,” journalist Allison Arnold wrote.