Screw Salt, Wisconsin Is De-Icing Its Roads With Cheese Brine

Life handed Wisconsin lemons, and Wisconsin has come right back with the cheesiest lemonade you ever did see. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to dispose of cheese brine every year, Wisconsin will be putting that liquid provolone gold right back to use by pouring it onto the roads—which, in turn, is making them safer than ever before.

You may not have known its name at the time, but you've almost certainly seen cheese brine before. If you've ever bought fresh mozzarella, it's that cloudy, liquid byproduct sitting underneath the floating bits of cheese. Its also a quick way of boosting the salt content when making certain soft cheeses—and Wisconsin has a lot of it.

A few years ago, highway employee Emil Norby in Polk County had the brilliant idea to solve one Wisconsin problem with another. Notoriously cold, Wisconsin is plagued by dangerously icy roads for a good portion of the year; but, instead of melting roads down with costly rock salt, why not just slather 'em with the cheese brine dairies were struggling to get rid of anyway? It worked marvelously.

Not only did dairies save money in brine disposal, but Polk County ended up saving around $40,000 in rock salt costs. What's more, cheese brine turned out to be even better at melting ice than its less dairy-oriented predecessor. While regular salt brine freezes at six below zero, cheese brine doesn't freeze until 21 below zero, meaning it can withstand those harsh Wisconsin winters all the more.

And since it worked so well for the folks over in Polk County, Milwaukee has officially jumped on board the cheese juice bandwagon. Of course, nothing comes without a catch and, in this case, a particularly malodorous one. As the Milwaukee Department of Public Works notes, cheese brine does in fact come with its very own "distinctive odor." Modern Farmer elaborates:

Norby says this scent is tough to describe, but likens it to the smell of whey (not exactly a ringing endorsement). Still, he manages some cheesehead pride: "I don't really mind it. Our roads smell like Wisconsin!" The odor stems from organic matter, little bits of cheese flotsam left from the brining process.

If things go well for Milwaukee, this could almost certainly mean a wider rollout and, maybe even one day, a cheese-reeking America from sea to shining sea. After all, if Norby is to be believed, "they want to try it in New York." Because the city's rats don't already have enough going for them. [Modern Farmer]

Image: Shutterstock/Krzysztof Slusarczyk