Traditional wheels of Gouda cheese on display on cobblestones at Alkmaar cheese market, The Netherlands. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

Did You Know There’s a Cheese Cave Under Springfield, Missouri?

Ocean Ave is so out. Missouri's cheese caves are so in.

That’s right. There’s a literal cave system in Springfield, Missouri stocked with cheese, and the Feds put it there. How TF did that happen?

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Let’s dive in.

How it started

A faltering dairy industry in 1977 drove former president Jimmy Carter to take drastic measures, namely, sending $2 billion dollars to American dairy farmers to kickstart production. It worked, but it turns out you can have too much of a good thing: About 1.4 billion pounds too much, actually. There was, conveniently, some extra space under Springfield to store it all.

Farmers used their new federal subsidies to produce as much cheese as possible, with the comfort of knowing that anything not sold in stores would just be bought by the government. And they wasted no time turning that cheddar into cheddar (sorry not sorry). By 1980, the U.S. Government was the proud owner of about 500 million pounds of cheese.

The Reagan Administration

Ronald Reagan holds a block of government cheese.
(image: screenshot/AustinMcConnell/YouTube)

Flash forward to a new president, Ronald Reagan, who had so much fun distributing crack cocaine to poor Americans that he decided to do it with cheese, too. Thus, the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program was born. Operated by a branch of the USDA, this program sends a designated amount of food to state food banks based on the unemployment and poverty rates in each state. From there, the food banks send the food to local distributors like soup kitchens or food pantries.

Unfortunately, that government bailout fromage from the ’70s had begun to sour, so rancid “government cheese” was handed out to food banks all over the country, which in turn handed it out to the public. The ONE time the trickle-down model works, it’s with expired cheese.

The Clinton Administration

Since the cheese epidemic didn’t end there, the Clintons got involved in the ’90s. President Bill Clinton established an organization called Dairy Management Incorporated to help move excess dairy products during times of overproduction. President Carter had gone a little too hard with his bailout, and America had too much of a gouda thing.

This organization still exists and is partly dedicated to increasing American dairy consumption, despite the increasing number of studies indicating that too much dairy is actually not healthy. We’ve all seen at least one “Got Milk?” poster, usually featuring a celebrity spokesperson. These exist thanks to the DMI. In fact, efforts to increase dairy consumption went so far as to add Taco Bell quesadillas to school lunch programs. These efforts even spawned a Domino’s bailout to keep the pizza chain in business just so they would buy more cheese.

How it’s going

After an uneventful few decades, during which the cheese caves were carefully and lovingly maintained, we were back in business. In 2019, the government once again wound up with too much cheese on its hands and started stockpiling it all over again. Dairy consumption among Americans was down, but production was up, meaning millions of gallons of milk were produced but not sold, and had been going to waste, starting in 2016.

For better or worse, the USDA announced that it is revisiting the government cheese distribution plan, which so far has been a moderate success, at least in terms of getting rid of the cheese. Dear God, why do we have this much cheese?

Sadly, tours of the cheese caves are not available. But if the internet can come together and plan to storm Area 51, I bet we can make it happen in Missouri. Cheeseward ho!

(featured image: Tim Graham/Getty Images)

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Scout (she/her/hers) is a freelance news writer for The Mary Sue. When not scrolling Twitter, she's thinking about scrolling Twitter. She likes short walks on the beach, glitter pens, and burnt coffee. She does not read the comments.