Buttons: an Experiment With Cheese




About: 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 what they're like. I love life, show me something I can feel good about. I've got an ...

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

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%

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

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.



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    68 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

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

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

    2 replies

    9 years ago on Step 4

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

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 4

    .. 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?