This year, in order to melt snow on roadways more quickly, Wisconsin is combining rock salt with cheese byproducts. It's an ingenious plan to take advantage of a state industry that produced 2.7 billion pounds of cheese in 2012.
The New York Times reports that this winter, Milwaukee began a pilot program mixing rock salt with cheese brine in order to get it to stick to roads better. The recycling of cheese brine used to make softer cheese has considerable savings for both cheesemakers and public works. One manufacturer reports saving about $20,000 a year by donating brine to local government rather than having to haul it away themselves.
About 30 percent of dry rock salt is rendered useless either by bouncing off roads or getting picked up by traffic, so for governments, mixing it with brine to increase cohesion makes more efficient use of resources. The state's Polk County saved $40,000 in salt costs in 2009 when they tested the technique.
Plus, there is also another amazing side effect: the road smells like cheese. The Times say it "smells a little like mozzarella," which is a dream come true (scientifically, mozzarella's salt content works best with rock salt). Modern Farmer, however, has qualified that this isn't entirely true:
In a recent report, the Milwaukee Department of Public Works noted cheese brine’s 'distinctive odor.' Norby says this scent is tough to describe, but likens it to the smell of whey … The odor stems from organic matter, little bits of cheese flotsam left from the brining process. It’s these bits that make brine so effective as a road de-icer. Regular salt brine has a freezing point of 6 below zero, but cheese brine doesn’t freeze up until 21 below.
The Times has other questions about the measure, which we'll address one by one.
- Would a faint odor of cheese bother residents? (Answer: Who on earth would be bothered by a faint odor of cheese?)
- Would it attract rodents? (Answer: Hopefully! Sounds like a real-life Disney cartoon.)
- Would the benefits of cheese brine, said to freeze at a lower temperature than regular salt brine, be enough to justify the additional hauling and storing requirements? (Answer: Uh... come back to us on that one.)
We are currently trying to figure out how to describe this ingenuity as anything other than "very Wisconsin" or "peak Wisconsin." It's one of the most Wisconsin things we've ever heard. It could only get more Wisconsin-y if the Green Bay Packers were spreading the mixture themselves while wearing cheesehead hats and singing "On, Wisconsin!" and, also, the spread of the mixture formed the shape of Bucky Badger.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.