By Kirk Maltais, Wall Street Journal

Americans are eating more cheese and butter. That has dairy farmers scrambling to get their cows to produce fattier milk.

The efforts include using different cow breeds and feed mixes, and making sure animals are comfortable and don’t get too hot. The result is that the average amount of butterfat in milk produced by U.S. dairy herds has climbed past 4% and above the previous record set during World War II.

Just five years ago, dairy farmer Melvin Medeiros said his herd consisted entirely of Holsteins, the black-and-white spotted animals often shown in TV commercials. Now about 70% are brown Jersey cows, which are smaller but produce a fattier milk.

“We wanted to graduate to a more efficient cow,” said Medeiros, who operates a 500-acre dairy farm in California’s Fresno County.

The switch reflects the resurgence of dairy products like cheese and butter as low-fat diets have faded in popularity. Cheese consumption is at an all-time high, with Americans eating an average of 42 pounds a year in 2022, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That is up 17% over the previous decade.

After climbing in recent years, butter consumption slipped to 6 pounds per person in 2022, but is still up 9% from a decade earlier.

Milk consumption, meanwhile, has continued to slide and is at 130 pounds per person a year, a 23% drop from a decade earlier.

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