The USDA has 1.5 billion pounds of cheese stashed in caves in Missouri

And 355,000,000 pounds of butter.

Technically, the USDA owns just 300 million pounds of the cheese and is storing the remaining billion or so for a friend. Cave networks in the Kansas City area are naturally climate-controlled and so the USDA, which has a sizeable presence in the area, uses them for cheap cold storage. So there are just shelves and shelves and shelves of wheels and wheels and wheels of cheese, glorious cheese-lined caves, with no end in sight. The answer to how this happened is, in short, market stability, kind of.

It all starts with milk. The price of milk has always been volatile, jumping up and down based on limited supply and fluctuating demand. It also doesn't help that milk production naturally rises in the spring calving season, but demand for milk is generally at its highest in the fall, when the school year starts again. To help, the government looked for ways to step in and calm the market. But because milk has a pretty short shelf life, it couldn't do much with the actual liquid product. 

[…]In 1949, the USDA introduced the Dairy Product Price Support Program, later known as the Milk Price Support Program. When the price of dairy products sunk too low for farmers, the USDA would offer to buy up the excess at a stable rate. It bought millions of pounds of cheese, butter and dry milk from producers who would otherwise have lost a lot of money if they only relied on their regular retailers. The result? The dairy market would stabilize, producers would have steady income and prices for the products would eventually rise. Then, once the prices of dairy products hit 125 percent of the support price, the USDA would start selling off its stash in bulk. 

Emily Baron Cadloff, Modern Farmer

This put a cap on cheese prices both high and low, and cost the gov a lot of money.The price support program ended in 2014, and now the squirreled cheese is used in food assistance programs.

I'm no mathematician, but 1.5 billion pounds sounds like a really big number. Too high of a number, actually. Maybe one day the gov will take my advice and turn the moon into cheese. I think this is the best possible use for all 1.5 billion pounds of it, much of which I've arbitrarily decided is excess. Think of the benefits of turning the moon to cheese. America's World Whimsy Index score would skyrocket. And Wallace and Gromit would no longer count as fiction. Plus, we'd have leverage against France in cheese-related cultural hijinks. I rest my case.

Previously: Themepark in an ancient, cavernous Transylvanian salt-mine