Excuse me, but is that cheese brine on your road?

| January 9, 2014

Bear with me: things are about to get cheesy. For this post, we’re headed to Wisconsin, the land of dairy dominance and self-proclaimed “cheeseheads.”

Cheese isn’t the only thing for which this Midwestern state is known. Wisconsin is also famous for brutally cold winters and more than its fair share of ice.

Some innovative folks in Wisconsin have found a way to combine those two things, and the results are fascinating. The Milwaukee Department of Public Works initiated a pilot program that adds cheese brine to rock salt to spread on the roads in order to combat ice.

cheese brine

A snowy Wisconsin road. From bcmom.

Yes, that means that Wisconsinites don’t just eat, sleep, and breathe cheese — they also drive on cheese. The natural saltiness in cheese makes it a surprisingly logical choice — especially since Wisconsin has plenty of cheese waste to go around.

In case you were wondering, provolone and mozzarella “have the best salt content,” according to public works fleet operations manager Jeffrey A. Tews. “You have to do practically nothing” to those cheeses to use them on the roads.

This cheesy pilot program has attracted national attention, but it’s not the only unusual anti-road ice initiative in the country. “Local governments across the country have been experimenting with cheaper and environmentally friendly ways of thawing icy thoroughfares,” reports Steven Yaccino for The New York Times. They’re “trying everything from sugar beet juice to discarded brewery grain in an attempt to limit the use of road salt, which can spread too thin, wash away, and pollute waterways.”

Cheese is a creative solution and an admirable recycling effort, but it’s not without potential drawbacks. Before beginning the pilot program in December, some worried that the cheese brine would create an unsavory smell, attract rodents, or prove to be more trouble than it was worth.

cheese brine

Cheese in brine. From Sint Smeding.

Thus far, residents “say they have noticed little difference, bad or good, in the smell of their streets, and city officials say they have received no complaints.”

Cost saving is a massive factor in the decision to test cheese. Rock salt is expensive and you need a whole lot of it to create an effective solution. “Last year, with only 28 inches of snow, Milwaukee used 44,000 tons of salt and spent almost $6.5 million on snow and ice management,” reports Yaccino. The city won’t know the full costs of the cheese program until spring, but they’re only spending about $6,500 on the pilot program.

The city’s pocketbook isn’t the only thing that stands to benefit from the program. If successful, it will both provide a use for otherwise useless cheese waste and will reduce the amount of rock salt needed. “We’re just trying to make every possible use of cheese,” local alderman Tony Zielinski told The New York Times.

Representatives of other municipalities around the country have already contacted Zielinski to learn more about the program. If the Milwaukee pilot is successful, things could get very cheesy.

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Category: Food

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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