When you hear “Wisconsin,” there are generally two things that come to mind: cheese and snow. Considering that the state produces 25% of the country’s cheese and averages 50 inches of snow annually, those aren’t incorrect associations either. Recently, Wisconsinites developed an innovative idea that solves the problems of having excess cheese and snow simultaneously.
Specifically, parts of Wisconsin have begun to replace some of their rock salt supplies with cheese brine to thaw their icy roads, the New York Times reports. Officials believe the brine to be a cheaper, more effective way of making streets safer to drive on in the winter.
Forget yellow — some of Wisconsin’s cheese is now green. Since traditional rock salt generally flies off the roads and pollutes waterways, the cheesy alternative is considered a more eco-friendly solution.
That’s not the only environmental benefit. Reusing the cheese brine significantly cuts down on waste, as well. A large hunk of the 2.7 billion pounds of cheese Wisconsin manufactures each year are extra bits, unfit for sale or consumption. Instead, these dairy scraps are disposed of, winding up at waste treatment centers or landfills. By putting cheese brines down on icy roads, the once unwanted parts are now proving helpful.
Currently, local regulations require that the brine is mixed with rock salt rather than replacing it entirely, though that policy could change in the future if pilot programs continue to prove successful.
When it comes to salting the roads, not all cheese is created equally. Due to their high salt content, mozzarella and provolone are the best for the task. In fact, according to a public works employee, “practically nothing” is necessary to prepare these cheese’s brine for the road. The fact that the process is not labor-intensive has made the brine even more appealing to Wisconsin municipalities.
After Polk County first introduced brine into their rock salt in 2009, it saved $40,000. The savings work both ways, too. Cheese company F & A Dairy Products reports that it was happy to hand over its excess brine supply as it would have otherwise cost them $20,000 to haul it away.
The cheese brine also addresses other problems that are common with rock salts. While about 30% of rock salt quickly flings off the roads from passing cars, the cheese seems to do a much better job of sticking to the road. Furthermore, the brine freezes at a lower temperature than rock salt, making it effective for longer.
The one main issue that the state anticipated when testing the use of brine was that it may create a cheesy odor. Fortunately, Wisconsin officials are pleased to say that they have yet to receive a single complaint about the brine’s smell. Perhaps it’s just that residents are already used to the scent of cheese, but the consensus seems to be that you have to bend down and intentionally take a whiff of the ground to notice the cheesy smell. In that case, anyone putting his nose that close to the pavement only has himself to blame.
Following the early success of the brine on the roads, Wisconsin counties say that they’ve been contacted by cities in other states for advice on how to implement similar brine-based programs. Looking forward, this pollution and waste reducing solution could become a staple for wintery roads throughout the country.