05 December 2013

Cheese brine for icy roads

From backwoods county highways to Milwaukee city streets, Wisconsin road crews will be using a new weapon in the war on winter accidents — cheese brine.

Brine is a liquid cheese-making byproduct; if you’ve bought fresh mozzarella, it often comes floating in the stuff. To cheese-makers, it’s a hassle — they spend many thousands of dollars to dispose of cheese brine each year, trucking it to wastewater treatment plants.

Bingo bango, cheese brine hit the highway. And in the first year alone, tiny Polk County saved $40,000 in rock salt costs. Conversely, F&A Dairy saved on brine disposal costs — to the tune of nearly $30,000. “Everybody wins,” says Chuck Engdahl, F&A’s wastewater manager.

Of course, there is an odor to consider. “What better to put on your roads than the scent of mozzarella?” quipped John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheesemaker’s Association. Cute sound bite, but not altogether accurate.

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 (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. 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.
That last sentence is impressive.  You can read more about this at Modern Farmer.


  1. In Western Massachusetts, they spray molasses on the roads and sidewalks, which has an antifreeze effect. It is exactly as smelly, sticky and nauseating as it sounds.

  2. What, if any, effect on wildlife and/or the flora of the area?

  3. Typically freezing-point depression is not affected by the type of substance dissolved in water. It is only affected by the number and concentration of dissolved particles.

    I can see no basis for the claim "Regular salt brine has a freezing point of 6 below zero, but cheese brine doesn’t freeze up until 21 below.". Certainly you could make a regular salt brine with a concentration high enough to not freeze until 21 below. It is possible to achieve liquid water at any temperature up to zero F simply by adding more ionic salts.

    Incidentally this is the basis for the original definition of the zero point for the Fahrenheit scale. The temperature at which no matter how much salt you add water still freezes. The other point was "human blood temperature" at exactly 100 degrees.

    These proved to be difficult to work with so the scale was redefined/adjusted slightly and now we end up with 98.6 as "human blood temperature".

  4. Too bad many Wisconsinites will be run over while licking the road.


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