America’s love affair with cheese is as old as the country itself. As a country of immigrants, many American cheese varieties were derived from centuries-old recipes and traditional methods brought by the first settlers to the region. The United States is now the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter of cheese, producing more than 600 delicious varieties, including American originals such as Monterey Jack, Colby, and cottage cheese. Commercial production in the United States began in the late 1860s with the opening of the country’s first cheese factory. Today, international competitions place American specialty cheeses among the best in the world, with consistent top honors for flavor, body, and appearance. From the rolling dairy farms of Wisconsin to the scenic landscapes of Vermont, the United States boasts an impressive range of delicious cheeses to satisfy every taste preference.
Cottage cheese, with its fresh, creamy, and slightly tangy flavor, is a versatile cheese that is high in protein and can be enjoyed on its own, paired with fruit, or used in a variety of recipes. The origins of this variety of cheese can be traced to the northern U.S. state of Minnesota in the 1800s, when farmers would sometimes use sour milk to make what was known as “Dutch cheese.” The term cottage cheese was first used in the mid-19th century to describe a simple kind of homemade cheese, and the variety became popular in America during World War I as an alternative to meat, which was being rationed for American soldiers fighting in the conflict.
American cheese, made from cheddar or Colby cheese, is a processed cheese variety with a mild flavor and smooth, creamy texture that’s perfect for melting on burgers and more. Monterey Jack is a semi-hard variety that boasts a slight sweet but mild flavor. An American original, this cheese variety has roots in the Spanish colonization of North America and was developed in the 1700s by Franciscan monks in Monterey, California. Colby cheese is a cow’s milk cheese named after a city in Wisconsin where it was first developed in the mid-1880s. Made using a process similar to that of cheddar, Colby cheese is prepared by washing the curds with cold water to quickly reduce the temperature, resulting in a softer and more moist consistency that is perfect with crackers, on sandwiches, or grated onto salads.
Colby-Jack, as the name suggests, is a semi-soft marbled blend of Colby and Monterey Jack cheeses. It has a mild and creamy texture that is ideal for melting on burgers or making a delicious dish of mac-and-cheese. Made by adding a blend of hot peppers and herbs to Monterey Jack cheese, Pepper Jack offers a unique and flavorful option for those who love a bit of spice. Whether produced by small-scale or large-scale cheese producers across the country, these delicious cheese varieties showcase the diversity of American caseiculture (cheesemaking).
You can find more information about U.S. cheese varieties and the many delicious recipes you can make with them by visiting ThinkUSADairy.org.
Dairy Farms in the United States
America is the world’s largest milk producer, with 102.7 million metric tons of cow milk produced on U.S. dairy farms last year. That’s triple the combined milk volume of New Zealand and Australia! The U.S. dairy cow herd has more than 9 million cows living on nearly 28,000 farms across the country, but the largest dairy-producing states are California, Wisconsin, Idaho, Texas, and New York.
Dairy farms in the United States are more than just a business – 95 percent are family-owned and operated by people with a passion for taking great care of their cows and providing the best products to consumers everywhere. The comfort, health, and safety of their cows is a top priority for these farms, as they know that happy cows make the best milk. A single U.S. dairy cow produces an average of 144 servings (250ml each) of milk per day!
To ensure optimal nourishment, American dairy cows eat specially designed diets formulated to produce milk rich in nutrients essential to human health like calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and protein. The components of an American dairy cow’s diet typically combine hay (like alfalfa or grass), grains (including corn, wheat, and barley), and protein sources (like soybeans and canola), along with vitamin and mineral supplements. There are minimal season-to-season variances in feed quantity and nutrient composition, in contrast to the cyclical variation in feed volume typical of grazing grass-fed dairy cows, which are common in some parts of the world.
When it comes to animal care, 98 percent of U.S. milk comes from dairies participating in the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Animal Care program, which ensures that cows are treated humanely and provided with appropriate care. Learn more about the ways American dairy farmers prioritize the wellbeing of their cows by visiting USDairy.com.
In addition to prioritizing animal care, dairy farms in the United States are also taking steps to reduce their environmental impact. Many American cheese producers are incorporating sustainability practices, like upcycling byproducts from food processing such as citrus pulp and almond hulls, into their farming methods to minimize waste from food processing. Many farms also have anaerobic digester systems that convert cow manure and food waste into a renewable energy source as well as producing fertilizer for horticulture crops.
With a commitment to animal welfare and sustainability, it is no wonder that American cheese producers are leading the way in the production of delicious, high-quality cheese!
The diversity of American cheese is a testament to the passion and commitment of the country’s cheesemakers and dairy farmers. From classic American cheese to unique blends like Colby-Jack and spicy Pepper Jack, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The dedication of dairy farms to animal care and sustainability practices ensures that the cheesemaking process is not only delicious but also responsible. So, the next time you take a bite of your favorite American cheese, remember the hardworking farmers and cheesemakers who made it possible.