Since prehistoric times, humans have been making and eating cheese. Dating back as far as 6,000 BC, archaeologists have discovered that cheese had been made from cow and goat milk and stored in tall jars. The Romans turned cheese making into a culinary art, mixing sheep and goat milk and adding herbs and spices for flavoring. By 300 AD, cheese was being exported regularly to countries along the Mediterranean coast.
Cheese is made from the milk of cows and other mammals such as sheep, goats, buffalo, reindeer, camels, yaks, and mares. More than 400 varieties of cheese exist. There are three basic steps common to all cheese making. First, proteins in milk are transformed into curds, or solid lumps. Second, the curds are separated from the milky liquid (or whey) and shaped or pressed into molds. Finally, the shaped curds are ripened according to a variety of aging and curing techniques. Cheeses are usually grouped according to their moisture content into fresh, soft, semi-soft, hard, and very hard. Many classifications overlap due to texture changes with aging.
Cheese is a multi-billion-dollar a year industry in the U.S. Cheddar cheese is the most common natural cheese produced in the U.S., accounting for 35% of U.S. production. Cheeses originating in America include Colby, cream cheese, and Monterey Jack. Varieties other than American cheeses, mostly Italian, now have had a combined level of production that easily exceeds American cheeses.
Prices - Average monthly cheese prices at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 2007 rose by +41.9% yr/yr to a new record high of 175.78 cents per pound. The price rise continued into early 2008.
Supply - World production of cheese in 2007 rose +1.7% yr/yr to 21.344 million metric tons, which was a new record high. The European Union is the world's largest producer of cheese with 32% of the total world production in 2007. The U.S. production was the next largest with 21% of the total. U.S. production of cheese in 2007 rose +1.4% to 9.671 billion pounds, which was a new record high.
Demand - U.S. consumption of cheese in 2005 (latest data available) fell -2.2% to 8.741 billion pounds. U.S. per capita cheese consumption in 2002 (latest data available) rose +2.0% to 30.60 pounds per person per year, which is a new record high.
Trade - U.S. imports of cheese in 2005 (latest data available) fell -2.5% to 460 million pounds. U.S. exports of cheese in 2005 fell -4.9% to 128 million pounds, down from 2004's record high of 134 million pounds.