During World War Two, the British government decreed that as part of war economies and rationing, only cheddar cheese made in a certain way would be available to the populace.
All milk produced that normally went to make many different kinds of cheeses, went instead to factories to make the cheddar that became known as “Government Cheddar.”
The decree banning the production of any cheese but Government Cheddar continued until the end of rationing in 1954, 9 years after the end of the war.
While Government Cheddar helped to get Britain through the war, it also practically wiped out all farmhouse and artisanal manufacture of cheese. Cheeses such as Wensleydale almost disappeared.
In the south-west of England before the war, 514 farms were making a vast variety of cheddars. In 1974, just 33 farms were making cheddar, mostly of uniform taste and quality. It would not be until the mid 1990s that the revival of British cheeses began in earnest.
The American government, after the Second World War, also made cheese that people referred to as Government Cheddar. It was distributed in large blocks to the food stamp recipients, along with other dry goods.
Literature & Lore
“What is particularly striking about the revival of the British cheese industry is its journey from near extinction during the privations of World War II, when the Ministry of Food commanded all dairy production to abandon variety in pursuit of a single cheddar-style national cheese. Nationalization all but crushed the industry, with fewer than 100 independent British cheesemakers still in business by 1945, compared to more than 3,500 prior to World War I.” — Mitch Potter. Cool Britannia rules the whey. Toronto, Canada: The Toronto Star. 9 October 2007. Page A3.
Government Cheddar is also used now as a phrase in America to refer to government handouts such as grants and subsidies.