Food & Drink | October 29, 2020 6:00 am

The American Cheese Industry Is in Chaos

"I wake up at 3 a.m. thinking: 'How am I going to sell all this Parmesan?'"

cheese shop
Cheesemongers stand behind a display case of domestic and imported cheeses at Cheese Plus in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As we inch closer to our eighth month of the pandemic, nearly every industry in the country continues to be impacted by the COVID-19. Those related to food and drink have been hit especially hard as restaurants and bars continue to operate at a limited capacity, and as a new Wall Street Journal piece highlights, the cheese industry is one that has suffered great upheaval due to the coronavirus.

Because a large chunk of their business comes from selling to restaurants, many cheesemakers had to change prices and shift their strategies when demand dropped drastically in the spring during the early stages of the shutdown. Errico Auricchio, president of Wisconsin-based BelGioioso Cheese Inc., went from making fresh cheeses that can’t be stored (like mozzarella) to hard cheeses like Parmesan, which the Journal notes are aged “for up to a year before they are marketed.”

As a result, he’s currently sitting on so much unsold cheese that he’s had to rent extra space to store it all. “I wake up at 3 a.m. thinking: ‘How am I going to sell all this Parmesan,’” Auricchio told the publication.

The Trump administration announced a plan to buy $3 billion of dairy, meat and produce to distribute to food banks back in April, which caused a temporary surge in demand for cheese, and as restaurants partially reopened in the summer, some cheesemakers had to scramble to adjust to the increased demand. Now, no one seems to know what the future holds.

“It’s been chaos,” Jeffrey Schwager, chief executive of Wisconsin-based Sartori Co., which sells cheese to grocers, pizza chains and food manufacturers, told the Journal. “Some weeks we’re literally working seven days a week, running plants 24 hours per day. Other days we’re looking for work.”