The Hightower Report

A whiff of cheese on Wisconsin streets

For generations, picture-takers have instructed their subjects to "say 'cheese.'"

Well, no people "say 'cheese'" better than Wisconsinites, who unabashedly wear cheesehead hats in public, celebrate dozens of cheese festivals, have a Monterey Jack bacterium as the states' official microbe, and generally honor the milk curd as a deity. So, naturally, Wiscon­sin would be the state to come up with the idea of spraying its city streets with cheese brine.

This is not some sort of cheesy tourist promotion, but an actual attempt to have two problems blend into one clever solution. Problem No. 1 is ice. Wisconsin gets lots of it, with Milwaukee alone averaging more than four feet of snow each winter and spending some $10 million a year to apply rock salt to clear its frozen streets. Not only is that a lot of money, but about 30% of the dry salt bounces off the roadways and pollutes waterways.

Problem No. 2 is cheese brine. It's a waste product from cheese making, and this state produces nearly 3 billion pounds of cheese a year, so it has lots of brine. It costs a typical dairy farmer thousands of dollars each year to dispose of it. But this winter, farmers are donating their waste problem to cities like Milwaukee, which are hauling the brine to their road maintenance facilities and blending it into the rock salt. The idea is to create a mixture with just the right stickiness to keep the salt from bouncing away. "You want to use provolone or mozzarella," says a Milwau­kee public works manager. "Those have the best salt content. You have to do practically nothing to it."

Voilà – two messes equal a neat solution! Wisconsin officials still consider their cheese-coated streets an experiment, but it seems to be working out fine. And it's just one example of a myriad of innovative alternatives being produced by local governments all across our country.

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