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Government cheese is processed cheese that was provided to welfare, food stamp recipients and the elderly receiving Social Security in the United States, from the 1960s through to the early 1990s. (The style of cheese predated the era, having been used in military kitchens since the Second World War and in schools since as early as the 1960s.)
The cheese was bought and stored by the government's Commodity Credit Corporation. Direct distribution of dairy products began in 1982 under the Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program of the Food and Nutrition Service. According to the government, it "slices and melts well." The cheese was provided monthly, in unsliced block form, with generic product labeling and packaging.
The cheese was often from food surpluses stockpiled by the government as part of milk price supports. Butter was also stockpiled and then provided under the same program. Some government cheese was made of kosher products. This cheese product is also distributed to victims of a natural disaster following a State of Emergency declaration.
Currently, the USDA provides a subsidized food program for specific classes of foods in the United States known as the Women, Infants and Children program, as well as other programs such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
In the United States the term has been used, sometimes derisively, to describe government assistance, monetary or otherwise, given to some U.S. residents; for example, a person receiving such aid could be said to "live on Government Cheese."
Like traditional processed American cheese, it consists of a variety of cheese types and other ingredients such as emulsifiers blended together, and may be made of any of Cheddar cheese, Colby cheese, cheese curd, or granular cheese.