Opinion

U.S. becomes the largest importer of Spanish Manchego cheese despite the pandemic

Spain utilizes most of its goat and sheep milk to produce premium quality cheeses for domestic consumption and exporting across the world. The country is amongst the largest producers and exporters of goat and sheep cheese in the world. During 2020, the Spanish cheese sector struggled to market gourmet and exclusive cheeses due to the temporary closure of the hospitality industry. On top of this, during 2020, Spain’s cheese exports to the U.S. decreased by 17% in volume. Despite an overall fall in cheese exports during 2020, the export of famous Manchego cheese to the U.S. increased by 4.61%.

According to FAO, Spain is amongst the largest producers of goat and sheep milk in the world. The country produced 535 thousand tonnes of goat milk in 2019, making it the 6th largest producer in the world and 2nd largest within the European Union. Similarly, Spain was the 5th largest producer of sheep milk globally and the 2nd largest producer within the European Union during 2019. Spain utilizes most of its goat and sheep milk to produce premium cheeses for domestic consumption and exporting across the world making it among the top producers of exporters of goat and sheep cheese in the world

During 2020, the Spanish cheese sector struggled to market gourmet and exclusive cheeses made from goat and sheep milk due to the temporary closure of the hotels, restaurants, events, celebrations, and tourism. Many medium and small producers and processors of Spanish sheep and goat milk have been the most impacted by the COVID-19 situation.  Even though the country’s household demand for cheese increased as people stayed home, it was driven by low-value cow milk cheese. The household consumption could not offset the loss of the hospitality and tourism sectors which backed the high-valued cheese consumption.


Spain exports the majority of cheese within the European Union to countries like France, Portugal, and Germany. United States of America is the leading destination for Spanish Cheese outside the E.U. However, during 2020, Spain’s cheese exports to the U.S. decreased by 17% in volume. The main reason for reduced exports was the reduced demand in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the additional U.S. tariffs in response to the WTO case against EU aircraft subsidies.

Manchego cheese is a gourmet cheese made from pasteurized or unpasteurized sheep's milk and is native to the La Mancha region of Spain. Despite an overall fall in cheese exports during 2020, the export of famous Manchego cheese to the U.S. increased by 4.61%. The U.S had established itself as the most Manchego cheese importing country and the top destination for manchego cheese outside the E.U.



Source: Lanza

The Spanish cheese sector relies on the global export market to sustain itself as it exports a majority chunk of the cheese produced. Anticipating a domestic and global recovery of the hospitality sector in 2021, it is expected that the gourmet cheese industry of Spain will pick up the pace. Further, with large-scale vaccine drives across major cheese importing countries like the U.S., it is expected that the export levels can achieve their usual growth path.

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