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Commentary: Polk County backs cheese brine

Sand is spread on a road after hard-packed snow was cleared from the road in Wausau, Wis., Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Daily Herald Media, Dan Young)

Sand is spread on a road in Wausau on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Daily Herald Media, Dan Young)

Most people give no thought to de-icing roads until they are driving on a slippery one.

Steve Warndahl isn’t like most people.

Polk County’s highway czar always is looking for ways to make his roads safer while saving taxpayers money. So while the city of Milwaukee is trying cheese brine to de-ice Bay View roads, Warndahl is an old hat with it.

His frigid little corner of northwestern Wisconsin has been using a cheese brine concoction for five years.

“We heard that Washington state was experimenting with it, so we did some experiments of our own,” he said. “We put some cheese brine alongside salt brine in little bottles and checked the temperatures to see at what degree they froze.”

The result, he said, was that cheese brine freezes at a lower temperature.

And it is cheaper than salt brine.

“The first year we tried it we saved $40,000 compared to buying mag chloride,” Warndahl said. “We bought $40,000 less, and we felt we got through just fine.”

The savings don’t end there.

Hauling the cheese brine from F&A Dairy Products in Dresser costs just 8 cents a gallon. Hauling a gallon of salt brine is about 22 cents, and other products can be as much as $2 a gallon, he said.

F&A Dairy gets a boost out of the deal, too.

“The cheese company saves $25,000 a year,” Warndahl said. “They have to haul it to a wastewater treatment plant when they are finished with it. They win, and we feel we win.”

But not all cheese brines are created equal.

“The brine we use is part of the provolone cheese-making process,” Warndahl said. “Not all cheese brine works. Not all cheese is processed the same.”

Provolone cheese brine has a better salt content, which helps minimize freezing.

Some have voiced concerns that Milwaukee’s experiment with cheese brine will lead to stinky streets and will draw more animals. Warndahl waves off those fears.

“Our experience is that while loading it, you might detect an odor,” he said. “Once it’s applied to the road, there’s no odor at all.”

And the animal attraction is no more than what normally happens when using salt brine.

“Road salt draws deer and canines, and grit, of course, draws pheasants,” Warndahl said. “As far as an increase, no I don’t think there’s any truth to that.”

After five years of applying cheese brine to his roads, Warndahl said, he is confident Milwaukee will experience similar results.

“Any time you can reduce freeze and save taxpayers money,” he said, “it’s going to be a plus for you.”

Jeff Cota is the former copy editor of The Daily Reporter and uses salt on his food.

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