Three small kids sat on a huge cow, posing for a black-and-white photo that ended up in a 1941 issue of the Canadian Geographical Journal. The photo was captioned “The cow – the foster mother of the human race” and accompanied a story headlined “Cheese as a War-time Necessity” (read it here). The story was an ode to cheese, a look at where it was made and a request for Canada to produce a massive amount for Britain during the war. I was surprised, not by the author’s love for cheese, but by how little cheese Canadians were eating. “Each Canadian under peace-time conditions eats less than four pounds of cheese per year, a figure which is lower than that of Australia, New Zealand, the United States and many European countries,” author Ralph Purser wrote. “The latest available peace-time figure for Great Britain is more than twice as great as for Canada, while the figure in Switzerland is more than four times as much as that of Canada.” Four pounds is equivalent to little more than 1.8 kg. I decided to see how much cheese Canadians are now eating. A lot more, it turns out: In 2014, more than 12 kg of unprocessed cheese was consumed per capita in Canada, according to data from the Canadian Dairy Information Centre.
A 2006 sector profile from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada noted that Canada’s total cheese consumption has been on the rise since 1980s. For the first time, consumption reached 12 kg in 2005, and has stayed above that level since. There has particularly been growth within specialty cheeses, the profile notes, as shown on the graph in yellow. Despite much more cheese eating, Canada hasn’t surpassed all those other countries mentioned in the story.
But Canadians do eat more cheese than those in the U.K. now. In 2013, Canadians consumed 12.2 kg of cheese per capita, whereas those in the U.K. had 11.6 kg. Back in 1941, when Britain was asking for 112 million pounds (50.8 million kg) of Canadian Cheddar Cheese, author Purser seemed to have some concerns. Domestic cheese demand was only 40 million pounds (18.1 million kg) then. “The country is doing what it can, but cheese men are wondering if this production will be achieved,” Purser wrote. “It will not be easy.”