Introduction: Buttons: an Experiment With Cheese

Picture of 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

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

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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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%

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

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

Picture of 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!

Picture of 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.


dr_peru (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.

swaldock (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.

junits15 (author)2010-06-24

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

lemonie (author)junits152010-06-24

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

junits15 (author)lemonie2010-06-24

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.

frollard (author)2009-09-22

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

lemonie (author)frollard2009-09-24

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

godofal (author)lemonie2009-10-09

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

sgt.pepper (author)godofal2010-01-02

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

Damage, Inc. (author)2009-06-07

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

lemonie (author)Damage, Inc.2009-06-07

I'll try it and let you know. L

maybe some sort of laminating arrangement



Wasagi (author)2009-12-24


natethegreat88 (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

lemonie (author)natethegreat882009-09-04

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

natethegreat88 (author)lemonie2009-09-05

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

ycc2106 (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

lemonie (author)ycc21062009-08-30

Cotton would count? Hemp? L

ycc2106 (author)lemonie2009-09-01

.. 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?

nutty guy (author)2009-08-25

thats cool but I hope you ate that cheese!

lemonie (author)nutty guy2009-08-25

I ate the rest of it. L

nutty guy (author)lemonie2009-08-26

good good

lemonie (author)lemonie2009-08-25

..with crackers.

Punkguyta (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?

lemonie (author)Punkguyta2009-07-26

I suggest that you try it! L

Punkguyta (author)lemonie2009-07-29

Beef Jerky anyone?

Atomman (author)2009-07-05

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

keikothemeowmeow (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?

lemonie (author)keikothemeowmeow2009-06-13

Read the introduction. L

thepelton (author)2009-06-09

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

lemonie (author)thepelton2009-06-09

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

thepelton (author)lemonie2009-06-10

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

lemonie (author)thepelton2009-06-10

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

shermans (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?

lemonie (author)shermans2009-06-07

Not sure what poly clay is, Fimo? L

shermans (author)lemonie2009-06-08

It's oven back clay

lemonie (author)shermans2009-06-10

Ah thanks. L

thepelton (author)lemonie2009-06-10

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

Fodaro (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.

lemonie (author)Fodaro2009-06-08

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

lynnaluna (author)2009-06-08


NastyDogface (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.

lemonie (author)NastyDogface2009-06-07

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

strmrnnr (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.

lemonie (author)strmrnnr2009-06-07

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

Weissensteinburg (author)2009-06-07

It's great for emergency survival, too!

rtlampwork (author)2009-06-07

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

tecneeq (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 ... ;).

Bongmaster (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.

About This Instructable




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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