The U.S. is sitting on a mountain of cheese

Exports from the European Union have climbed so far this year and last — even after the bloc’s once-largest customer, Russia, banned trade in retaliation for sanctions over its incursion in Ukraine. A glut of milk, plunging prices and a weakening euro mean the EU has been able to grab customers in Asia and the Middle East, while U.S. sales have fallen.

European dairy products are so cheap right now that the U.S. itself has become the new No. 1 customer for some products — imports of EU butter doubled last year and rose 17 percent for cheese, according to the European Commission. All that excess supply is building up in U.S. refrigerators, especially as American dairy production heads to a record this year.

USDA statistics show cheese inventories at the end of March were the highest for the date since 1984, the year Prince’s “Purple Rain” was released. More than half of the supply is American cheese, while Swiss accounts for about 2 percent, and the rest the government classifies as “other.”