Cheese is an addictive food that brings cravings that are difficult to ignore.
While traditional cheese comes from cow’s milk or goat’s milk, cheese made from plants is on the rise, too.
Whether you want to use the cheese in a recipe or eat it on its own, you may be in the market to top off your fridge.
The average price of a pound of cheddar cheese is $5.26, which is quite expensive for many budgets.
Here are 10 reasons cheese is so expensive.
Why Is Cheese So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Decreased Milk Cow Numbers
Traditional cheese comes from dairy cows on dairy farms.
Farmers get milk from their cows, then cure it to make cheese.
When there aren’t enough cows to produce enough cheese, then the supply of cheese takes a hit.
With a low supply and demand for cheese remaining at its usual high, it causes the price of cheese to increase.
Normally, cow numbers are pretty even with the demand for cheese.
This enables manufacturers to sell cheese at competitive prices.
However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many farmers had to cull their dairy cows.
Farmers had to reduce production because restaurants weren’t open.
That cut out a large portion of their business since they regularly sell their cheese to restaurants.
They still had grocery stores, but without restaurants, farmers had more cheese than they could sell.
This meant that they were taking on more expenses than profits.
Cows require a lot of food and care to remain healthy and give milk.
Farmers who sell high-quality cheese put even more care into their cows.
Without profits to cover those costs, farmers are losing money.
To avoid financial ruin, many ended up having to cull their herds.
They killed their dairy cows to stave off costs.
While this solution helped keep the farms open, it also put them in a tight spot once restaurants reopened.
Demand for cheese suddenly skyrocketed.
Without the dairy cows available to produce cheese, farmers are unable to meet the demand.
That’s because they need to breed new dairy cows and that takes time.
Until dairy farms recover their numbers, the supply of cheese will remain limited.
As a result, the price of cheese will remain high.
Cheese is expensive because of the reduced dairy cow numbers.
2. Water Costs Due to Drought
Another serious problem impacting dairy farms is drought.
While cows don’t need water in the same sense that plants do, they do need it to survive.
As large animals, cows drink nine to 12 gallons of water a day.
A dairy cow drinks even more at 30 to 40 gallons a day.
That’s a lot of water, especially when there’s a drought going on and when the farmer has a lot of cows.
Droughts are periods without rainfall.
Without the rain to replenish wells, aquifers, and bodies of water, there’s nothing left to drink.
There’s only so much groundwater left.
To keep their cows alive, farmers have to import water from other places.
The problem with this is that buying water is expensive.
A lot of dairy farms are in the western or central part of the United States.
Those are also the areas hit by droughts.
To get water, they need to transport it from areas in the east, the north, and the south.
The water has to travel a long distance before arriving at the farm.
It also needs to remain contained to avoid picking up parasites and other waterborne illnesses.
Water is expensive because farmers aren’t only paying for the water.
They’re also paying for the transport.
If fuel prices are high, then those prices increase, too.
This isn’t a one-time purchase either.
Farmers have to continue to buy water and have it transported to their farms until the drought ends.
There’s no telling when that will happen.
This drives up the cost of their business.
To stay profitable, farmers have to sell their products at higher prices.
Stores, restaurants, and anyone else selling cheese then need to sell higher to make up for their extra expenses.
Cheese is expensive because of the drought impacting dairy farms.
3. Water Costs for Plant Farms
The drought isn’t only impacting dairy farms that have cows.
It’s also impacting farmers that use plants to make cheese.
Farms that grow almond trees, soybeans, or any other type of plant used to make cheese are also suffering.
If anything, they may be suffering the most since they have to grow several crops to make a profit.
Because their farms can stretch for miles, they have to buy even more water.
They also don’t get as much milk out of their plants as dairy farms with cows do.
As such, they have to spend more money to get the type of products that they need.
When certain necessities become more expensive, like water, it can impact the prices at which they sell their products.
Just like cow dairy farms, farmers with plants have to buy water elsewhere and have it transported to their farms.
They have to spread that water throughout their farmlands, usually through irrigation machines.
Like cows, they need to ensure that their plants get enough water every day.
If they don’t, then their plants will die and they’ll have nothing to show for their investments.
The price of water is high, especially when it has to come from a long distance.
Since their plants are also used for human consumption, the water also needs to be safe to drink.
That requires further investments to ensure the tank it’s carried in is clean and sanitary.
All these expenses force plant farmers to sell their cheese at higher prices.
Restaurants and grocery stores then need to sell at higher prices to make up for their own costs.
The consumer is the one who pays an increased price overall.
Cheese is expensive if it’s made from plants because plant farmers are also experiencing a drought.
4. Grain Shortages
Another serious problem that’s impacting dairy farms with cows is grain shortages.
Cows eat grain among other types of food to stay healthy and fit.
Farmers like to feed their cows grain because it yields better milk and keeps the cow healthy.
It’s also relatively cheap.
The problem is that there’s a growing shortage of grain.
In the United States, the shortage isn’t as bad as what’s happening in Europe.
However, because Europe’s grain shortage is going to be a problem, you can be sure that the United States is going to send some grain to them to help.
This means that there’s a little less grain to go around for American farmers.
Another problem impacting grain is wildfires and drought.
Together, those problems have destroyed fields or made it so farmers aren’t receiving as bountiful a yield as they normally do.
This means that there’s less grain to go around.
With limited grain, the price for it increases.
Dairy cows that yield high-quality milk tend to eat 50 to 55 pounds of dry matter a day.
While that isn’t all grain, it’s a good portion of their feed.
That’s a lot of grain that a farmer will need to feed all their cows.
When the farm is experiencing a drought and is unable to grow grass, then cows become even more reliant on grain.
Farmers will need to buy more grain to keep their cows fed.
As grain becomes more limited, the price will continue to increase, and farmers will keep adding to their costs.
This then impacts how much they sell their cheese for.
To make up for their costs, they sell at higher prices.
Consumers then have to pay the final price after the restaurant or grocery store raises their prices to cover their expenses.
Cheese is expensive because the price of grain is high.
Whenever California burns, the rest of the country will feel the repercussions.
That’s because the wildfires that occur in California also impact the grazing grounds of cattle.
Farmers rely on grazing grounds to keep their dairy cows fed.
It helps them save on costs since their cows can eat grass instead of more expensive food items like hay and grain.
The problem is that wildfires completely destroy grazing grounds.
Without the available grass for their cows, farmers instead have to turn to pricier methods to keep their cows fed.
For farmers who produce high-quality cheese, this is even more of a problem since they need to feed their cows a specific diet to enable them to give high-quality milk.
Wildfires also generate smoke.
The smoke often lingers long after the wildfire has subsided.
The problem with smoke is that it impacts the health of cows.
They breathe it in and have no way of filtering it.
Instead, they’re prone to smoke inhalation which can make them sick.
If the smoke becomes too thick, then it could even be lethal.
This forces farmers to take on more expenses to try and protect their cows from smoke inhalation.
As an example, farmers may need to purchase new land to migrate their cows away from the area of smoke until it passes through.
They may need to buy new land, anyway, just to give their cows a new place to graze.
Buying land is expensive and sometimes financially out of reach for new farmers.
Others may end up spending a lot of money on vet visits to try and ease the illness that their cows are suffering from due to the smoke.
Since wildfires aren’t always predictable, dairy farms are under constant threat every hot summer.
This impacts their prices since they have to take on more expenses to deal with the consequences of wildfire.
The price of cheese thus goes up.
Cheese is expensive because of wildfires impacting dairy farms.
6. Labor Shortages
There’s another problem on the farm that is also impacting cheese prices.
Many farms are having a problem with labor.
The COVID-19 pandemic is the catalyst for this issue in every industry.
When the pandemic waged, farmers didn’t have as many people to sell to.
As a result, they had to prune their expenses.
Part of their pruning was with their labor.
They let employees go and kept their labor force small.
When the pandemic ended, farmers suddenly found it difficult to find workers.
Those who the farmers had fired no longer felt safe working for them.
After all, who was to say that they wouldn’t just get fired again when the next economic crisis reared its ugly head?
Others realized the value of themselves and their work.
They wanted higher wages for the hard labor that they do.
Farmers thus had to either increase wages or find new ways to entice new workers to their farms.
Some have been successful while others are still struggling.
This impacts the price of cheese because it means there is less milk coming out of farms.
While much of the process uses automation, there are still key areas where human workers are present.
Without those workers there, it creates a bottleneck.
They can only process so many cows which means they can only make so much cheese.
With shortages already occurring because of a small supply of dairy cows, the labor shortage is only making the shortage worse.
This impacts how much cheese is available on the market.
With a small supply, restaurants and grocery stores have to pay more to get their hands on the products.
They then move those costs onto the customer.
Cheese is expensive because of the labor shortages that farms are experiencing.
7. Manufacturing Costs
Another reason cheese is expensive has to do with manufacturing costs.
While cheese isn’t too difficult to make, mass producing it requires a bit of expense and time.
One of the first steps is to test the milk to ensure it’s healthy and doesn’t contain any diseases.
If it passes all the health benchmarks, then it goes through its pasteurization phase.
After that, it has to reach a standardization phase.
This phase is different for each manufacturer.
It’s when they add a certain amount of fat, protein, or cream to the milk.
A brand that boasts low fat may use less fat while a brand that boasts more protein will likely put more protein into the cheese.
Once the recipe is to their liking, they add good bacteria to the milk.
The bacteria are responsible for fermenting the milk.
Different bacteria will give different cultures and it’s these cultures that define the cheese’s flavor and appearance.
After this step, each manufacturer adds a few other things based on their specific cheese.
For cheddar, it might be some sort of dye or another color-inducing ingredient to provide its signature orange color.
Because there are so many steps in the manufacturing process, it becomes an expensive product to make.
Workers need to be paid, equipment needs to be cleaned and maintained, and there are several health checks throughout the process to ensure the cheese remains healthy to eat.
All those instances cost money.
On a scale of mass production, it requires a lot of money.
To cover those costs, manufacturers sell at higher prices.
Consumers then pay the extra price.
Cheese is expensive because it’s heavily manufactured.
8. Artisanal Cheeses
While you can find relatively cheap cheese at the grocery store, you can also find very expensive artisanal cheese.
You may wonder what the difference is between them that warrants the higher price.
The primary reason that artisanal cheese is expensive is that it’s made entirely by hand.
Expert cheesemakers are usually behind artisanal cheese.
They don’t rely on machines to make their products.
Instead, they do everything by hand.
That includes checking, mixing, and adding all the ingredients to ensure it comes out to their standards.
This process obviously takes a lot more time.
The result is often a high-quality cheese packed with flavor and incredible texture.
Artisanal cheese isn’t meant for snacking.
It’s meant for special events and dinners.
It’s meant to pair with wine and provide an indulgent experience.
Since artisanal cheese is more indulgent, it comes with indulgent prices.
Artisanal cheese is expensive because it’s made entirely by hand.
Cheese takes time to produce.
Sometimes it can take as few as a couple of hours while, other times, it takes days if not months to finish curing.
The best cheese is arguably the type that takes a very long time to finish making.
The problem with that is that it’s difficult to have a successful business when you’re waiting months for the cheese to finish.
This is a problem that cheesemakers face.
They have to maintain a careful balance between providing great cheese and doing so at a fast pace.
Since not all brands sell cheese that only take a few hours to cure, some have to put higher prices on their cheese to make up for the time in which they’re not selling products.
Often, the cheese that takes longer to produce is usually the one that’s higher quality anyway.
It makes the high price more palatable.
However, because of the time it takes to make cheese, manufacturers have to sell them at higher prices to make a profit.
10. Special Cheeses
Some of the cheese that you eat actually has a protected name.
One example is the Jarlsberg cheese.
Originally, it was made in Norway, and the Norwegians have a very specific recipe that they follow to make the cheese.
They also have copyrighted the name and type of cheese.
However, you can sometimes find people in the United States who make Jarlsberg cheese.
They’re able to do so because they have a license from Norwegian cheesemakers that allow them to do so.
They can use the recipe to make cheese, but they have to pay Norway a specific amount of tax each year.
Since they have to pay taxes, you can be sure those cheesemakers sell their cheese at higher prices to cover that cost.
Cheese is expensive when you buy special cheese with protected names.
Cheese is an indulgent snack, topping, and ingredient that usually comes with an expensive price.
If you want to enjoy the best of cheese, like an artisan spread, then you can expect to pay even more.
The time it takes to make cheese, the difficulties of getting milk to produce cheese, and the various factors influencing supply and demand all impact the price of cheese.