Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is road testing a new way to keep winter roads ice-free—by spraying them with cheese brine. The salty solution is used to make soft cheeses, like mozzarella.
Wisconsin, nicknamed “America’s Dairyland,” is famous for its cheese. The state produced 2.8 billion pounds of the stuff last year! As a result, there was a lot of leftover cheese brine. Disposing of the brine can be expensive. So what should cheese makers do with the waste? Milwaukee may have the solution: spread it on roads.
Normally, towns use rock salt to de-ice streets. The salt lowers water’s freezing point—the temperature at which a liquid turns into a solid—causing ice to melt. But using cheese brine instead could help both cheese manufacturers and cities save money, while keeping roads safe. Cheese brine has salt in it, which, like the rock salt, helps lower water’s freezing point.
It addition to being more economical, cheese brine could also be a more eco-friendly option to rock salt. Many people suspect that all the rock salt used every winter is harming the environment.
Rock salt is made of sodium chloride, the same compound—a substance made of two or more chemically combined elements—in ordinary table salt. Sounds harmless, right? But while you probably add no more than a pinch of salt to your food, road crews spread about 20 million tons of salt on U.S. roads every year!
The chemical washes off roads and seeps into the ground. There it can pollute drinking water, harm plants, and erode soil. By spraying a coating of cheese brine on streets before adding a layer of rock salt, Milwaukee may be able to cut its rock salt use by 30 percent.
This isn’t the first time Milwaukee has tried out an alternative to rock salt. In the past, it has experimented with a product made from molasses and one made from beet juice. The first stuck to people’s feet, and the second turned into oatmeal-like goop inside de-icing trucks. Cheese brine has a downside too—a very distinctive odor, similar to that of curdled milk.
“I don’t really mind it,” Emil Norby told Modern Farmer magazine. He works for one of Wisconsin’s county highway commissions and came up with the idea of using cheese brine. “Our roads smell like Wisconsin!”
Other cities across the U.S. are interested in using cheese brine as well. It could be coming to a street near you soon. Do you think people in your neighborhood would take to the cheesy smell as well as Wisconsinites?