Introduction: Buttons: an Experiment With Cheese

Anecdoteally sailors used to carve things like buttons from cheese, as referred to here for one.

The British Navy did indeed procure cheese, which was rather hard (but durable) and presumably became harder with age.

Knowing that cheese can go rather hard if dried out, I decided to test the cheese-button anecdote.

I used a selection-bag of cheeses:

Austrian Smoked Processed Cheese
cheese, water, butter, milk protein, emulsifying salt (polyphosphate), potato starch, salt, liquid smoke

Edam
milk, salt, starter culture, colour (carotene), preservative (sodium nitrate, calcium chloride), animal rennet

Boursin
milk and cream, garlic and herbs (1.6%), salt, pepper

Mini Babybel Original
milk, salt, milk ferments, vegetarian rennet

Mini Babybel Cheddar Variety
cheddar cheese (94%), water, preservative (nisin)

Red Leicester
milk, cheese culture, salt, rennet, colour (annatto)

Step 1: Preparation

Considering the different formats, I decided to cut slices ~1/4 inch thick, and 3/4 inch wide.
The width of the strip was the only consistent accurate measurement, and would serve as a shrinkage point of reference.
The Boursin being mushy couldn't be cut, so it was spread onto a strip of plastic pizza-base.

Step 2: Drying

I gave these a few hours outside in the breeze, under a sieve. However I did return to find the sieve displaced and the Edam gone, so I had to cut that one again.
Then I gave them a gentle warming with the fan-heater that warms my toes at night. This caused the cheese to "sweat" grease, which was blotted with kitchen-towel (paper).

The cycle was repeated: sun & breeze during the day, warm air in the evening, over 7 days.

Austrian Smoked Processed Cheese
Not really cheese, but it dried quite well shrinking to 1/2" 67%

Edam
Quite a good cheese for drying shrinking to 9/16" 75%

Boursin
Hard to tell, as something mushy there wasn't any apparent loss of width, it was the thickness that diminished. However since it started plastered on a strip of packaging it's not that suprising.

Mini Babybel Original
Formed a bit of a crust, not a nice finish, shrunk to 9/16" 75%

Mini Babybel Cheddar Variety
Like the original it formed a bit of a crust, but more so, shrunk to 19/32" 79%

Red Leicester
Dried the best (and quickest) finishing at 9/16" 75%

Step 3: Button Making

I built a circular-cutter around a Dremel-a-like bit with some steel sheet (sardine-can). The edge was roughed-up with a file and I mounted it in a cordless-drill.

Edam, Red Leicester & Austrian Smoked Processed Cheese were the hardest, producing fine cheese swarf.
Due to being a bit "crusty" the Babybel cheeses were a bit "chewy" in the middle. For this reason the crusty-bits were sliced off with a knife and all the button-blanks were dried further by the same process.
Boursin, as you might expect was rather soft, no real drilling required.

The blanks were then thinned to 3/32" with sandpaper, the edges smoothed and two holes drilled (1/16"). The drilling did for the Boursin - it broke: out of the contest. The Red Leicester split along a natural fault line and had to be cut again.

Step 4: Cheese Buttons!

Yes you can make buttons from cheese.

I sewed these to an old pair of trousers, then using an old shirt-cuff and a bag, loaded each with 2 litres of water. All but the Babybel (original) held the weight, although the Babybel button only broke as I was unloading it.

The best cheese is Edam:
Smooth texture, hardens well and machines well

The processed smoked stuff comes second for the same reasons as Edam, but as it isn't really cheese it can't come first.

Red Leicester is a great cheese for drying and machining, but does have natural cracks in the texture which must be avoided.

The Babybels do not dry well

Boursin is just mush - not enough mechanical stability

Having left these for a couple of months they went a bit soft & crumbly - so I'd recommend a coat of varnish / lacquer.

Comments

author
dr_peru made it!(author)2014-04-22

Thank you for this great Instructable! Not only is it pleasantly obnouxious and funny (i had to leave the room to stop laughing!), it is also potentially very useful and delicious in case of any real or imaginary apocalyptic events in the future.

author
swaldock made it!(author)2011-10-21

As I understand it the cheese which was hardest and was considered so inedible as to be used for buttons was Suffolk Cheese which is fine fresh but degenerates into what is very close to casein - which is as I'm sure you know the very first form of plastic.

author
junits15 made it!(author)2010-06-24

haha that should make for an interesting conversation piece at parties!

author
lemonie made it!(author)2010-06-24

Yes... what sort of parties do you go to then? L

author
junits15 made it!(author)2010-06-24

I'm only 15, at the parties I go to cheese buttons wouldn't be a good idea :) but maybe for a more "sophisticated" party.

author
frollard made it!(author)2009-09-22

This is a ridiculously awesome ible 'mythbusting' a neat tale. Well done!

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-09-24

I never thought of mythbusting, but I suppose in a way that's what it was. I might like to see the Mythbusters do this. L

author
godofal made it!(author)2009-10-09

why, if you have done it already...
but i must admint, when reading the result, i did think about mythbusters :P

author
sgt.pepper made it!(author)2010-01-02

if the mythbusters did it, They'd fail, and find the c4 and blow the cheese up.

author
Damage%2C+Inc. made it!(author)2009-06-07

Hmm, could this withstand going through the wash, though? THAT's the major obstacle here. haha.

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-06-07

I'll try it and let you know. L

author
Zaphod+Beeblebrox made it!(author)2010-01-02

maybe some sort of laminating arrangement

author
lemonie made it!(author)2010-01-02

Varnish.

L

author
Wasagi made it!(author)2009-12-24

 :O

author
natethegreat88 made it!(author)2009-09-04

"So how exactley did you break your dremel." "Ummm... well i was grinding down cheese..." "You were what?" "...Grinding down cheese." jk

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-09-04

I didn't use the Dremel-A-like on this, but I appreciate your sense of humour, thanks. L

author
natethegreat88 made it!(author)2009-09-05

Oh, i just realized that that isn't a Dremel, and your welcome.

author
ycc2106 made it!(author)2009-08-30

Best ever! Now you need to make a biodegradable cloth to go with it, would give the fashion market a great boost! XDD

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-08-30

Cotton would count? Hemp? L

author
ycc2106 made it!(author)2009-09-01

.. isn't there something quicker? I think hemp takes years to disappear. Well, there's no need to make it solid. Use it fresh?

*thinking* ...leafs, vegetables...

There are those candy panties, but that won't do for rainy days.... so how about seaweed?

author
nutty+guy made it!(author)2009-08-25

thats cool but I hope you ate that cheese!

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-08-25

I ate the rest of it. L

author
nutty+guy made it!(author)2009-08-26

good good

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lemonie made it!(author)2009-08-25

..with crackers.

author
Punkguyta made it!(author)2009-07-26

This is actually pretty damn cool lemonie. Have you ever thought of joining the mythbusters? And another thought, do you think this could be done from meat? like beef jerky?

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-07-26

I suggest that you try it! L

author
Punkguyta made it!(author)2009-07-29

Beef Jerky anyone?

author
Atomman made it!(author)2009-07-05

What shall happen next time our cheese goes bad...

author
keikothemeowmeow made it!(author)2009-06-13

LOL, I really don't think I'd go through all the trouble of making my own buttons (especially since buttons are only around 3 bucks for 20 pairs) just to have seagulls attack me all day.....just...WHY?

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-06-13

Read the introduction. L

author
thepelton made it!(author)2009-06-09

I have made buttons from thin plywood using an Epilog laser. You can decorate them.

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-06-09

Do you think the laser would cut cheese? (nicely) L

author
thepelton made it!(author)2009-06-10

Personally, I think the laser would melt it, and make a mess.

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lemonie made it!(author)2009-06-10

I think there's still quite a bit of fat content, it'd make a nasty-smell at the least! L

author
shermans made it!(author)2009-06-07

Lol that's pretty neat, I thought you where just kidding when you commented on it, but this is a great use for cheese. You could even go as far as to press pattrens into the cheese and stuff I bet. You ever use poly clay?

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-06-07

Not sure what poly clay is, Fimo? L

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shermans made it!(author)2009-06-08

It's oven back clay http://www.sculpey.com/

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lemonie made it!(author)2009-06-10

Ah thanks. L

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thepelton made it!(author)2009-06-10

Fimo is a variety of poly clay. I think that Sculpey is the US variety, and Fimo is the type from Europe.

author
Fodaro made it!(author)2009-06-08

Have you tried using macro mode for taking close-ups with the camera? There's often a button marked with a flower icon which will allow the camera to focus on objects close to the lens.

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-06-08

It doesn't work (usually). But I spend a bit of time adjusting various things and managed a better one. L

author
lynnaluna made it!(author)2009-06-08

Awesome!

author
NastyDogface made it!(author)2009-06-07

I wonder what would happen if you compressed the cheese before drying. For example, the red leicester could be rolled into tight spheres and then flattened back out, to remove the air and cracks. Just a thought. Enjoyed the instructable.

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-06-07

What you're talking about is the kind of processing used to make smooth-textured cheese, and processed-cheese. This is partly why the smoke-flavoured product turned out well. L

author
strmrnnr made it!(author)2009-06-07

Good expeiment lemonie. I have to say though being a sailor, that I don't think the guys from that era likely didn't use buttons of that type. The plastic buttons of today don't even stand up well to a lot of work and bending over the rails. I have two theories to run by you. First they would have made buttons more in the shape of toggles - like you see on flags, only smaller. Second they may have made buttons to round the corners so they could swallow it without cutting their throats with the chards of hard cheese. After you don't eat for a couple of days even a hard piece of toast can draw blood.

author
lemonie made it!(author)2009-06-07

Thanks for the information, which I wouldn't dispute. I've taken the "buttons" anecdote literally in a modern sense to test the material. Also, the guys from that era would have carved them with knives I should think. L

author
Weissensteinburg made it!(author)2009-06-07

It's great for emergency survival, too!

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rtlampwork made it!(author)2009-06-07

This reminded me of the post "Homemade Plastic" by Coffeebot - Thank you for posting!

author
tecneeq made it!(author)2009-06-07

Well done lemonie. This experiment had to be done, for mankinds sake. Now, if someone would please give button on toast a try ... ;).

author
Bongmaster made it!(author)2009-06-07

awesome experiment XD is there any residual fat after its all done? i know cheese can be pretty greasy after its dried out naturally.

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Bio: I'm an experimentalist, a scientist and I have a tendency to do things just for the sake of doing them, or to find out ... More »
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