Turns out there’s a use for the often-stinky liquid used to brine cheese — de-icing roads. Milwaukee is using cheese brine, usually a waste by-product of the cheese-making process, to de-ice the city’s dangerously slick roads this winter, according to the New York Times. The city says the brine is a cheaper and more environmentally friendly alternative to rock salt, which can end up polluting waterways.
Wisconsin, essentially the cheese capital of the United States, produced 2.7 billion pounds in 2012, according to the report, which also creates a surplus of cheese brine that must be sent to waste treatment plants. Using the brine in conjunction with rock salt is helping to mitigate both issues, but the NYT says for use on roads, the liquid must be limited to eight gallons per ton of rock salt used.
Chuck Engdahl, the wastewater manager at F & A Dairy Products in northwestern Wisconsin, said his company now donates most of the brine to municipalities that pick it up from the dairy, saving him roughly $20,000 a year in hauling costs.
Across the state, Polk County began using cheese brine to de-ice its highways in 2009, saving $40,000 in rock salt expenses. The NYT reports that the pilot cheese brine program will cost Milwaukee roughly $6,500, most of which is for transporting and storing brine.
Aside from its immediate benefits, using the brine in this way could have its drawbacks: Potential long-term effects on the environment haven’t been determined, and it isn't replacing salt altogether. Then there’s the matter of the smell — which Polk County highway worker Emil Norby, who first conceived the idea, told Modern Farmer makes the roads “smell like Wisconsin.” And there’s no word yet on whether the brine could be a hazard for lactose-intolerant residents.