Gruyère wrapped in wax paper

Unwrapping the goodness of Gruyère.

I use wax paper for pretty much everything other people use PVC plastic wrap, food storage bags, or containers for. Wax paper is paper soaked in paraffin wax, not to be confused with the poisonous paraffin oil which is used in kerosene lanterns. Wax paper is moisture and flavor proof and its texture has a great feel to it. I don’t think anyone can disagree that wax paper makes the food inside more delicious looking than plastic wrap.

Some claim that Thomas Edison invented wax paper, but it is more likely that the French photographer Gustave Le Gray did, in 1851. But Le Gray had only photography, and not food in mind when doing so.

Cheese on board wrapped in wax paper.

Cheeses wrapped up in wax paper.

Pictured above in order from top to bottom: a Morbier (French), a Pt. Reyes Blue (U.S.A.), a Gruyère (Switzerland), and a Pont-l’Évêque, a soft raw cheese from France. The wooden board is a handmade gift by my architect friend Casey Huges.

I grew up in Germany and we used wax paper to wrap cheese, sandwiches and other foods. Even today, many specialty  purveyors of fish, meat, and cheese wrap their wares in wax paper. And you can put it just like that in the fridge. Cheese stays fresh and delicious much longer in wax paper than in plastic. I was happy when I found out that even the American Cheese Society lists it as the most preferable way to save cheese.

A 1951 Los Angeles Times article called “Waxed Paper Eases Tasks in Kitchen, Protects Food” gives more practical advice when storing leftover food in a bowl: “Just cut a piece a little larger than the bowl top and fold the edges of the paper down to form a collar around the top of the bowl”.

Family sitting around the table with bread packaged in wax paper, 1936. (Photo by Russell Lee on Shorpy)

Bread packaged in wax paper makes an appearance during a family dinner in 1936. (Photo by Russell Lee on Shorpy)

In its hey-day, waxed paper was also used for packaging candy, chocolate and bread. In the picture above, you can see bread wrapped in wax paper on the table. The picture is from December 1936 and beautifully puts today’s economic depression into perspective (look at the mattress pushed up against the wall in order to make space for the table). I love the look on everyone’s face.

I found some nice examples of ’50s and ’60s wax paper bread packaging on the blog a sampler of things– a fine site that has many more images for your viewing pleasure.

Vintage wax paper for packaging bread, 1950s and '60s.

Ad for wax paper packaging, circa 1950s.

The 1907 book “The Treatment of Paper for Special Purposes” by Louis Edgar suggests wax paper for wrapping “tobacco and snuff”, as well as  covering jam pots in order to “exclude injurious atmospheric influences, etc.”.

The book also gives instructions on how to make your own wax paper with a hot iron, and suggests the machine below in case you want to produce larger quantities.

An early wax paper machine from 1907.

How to make your own wax paper – a page from “The Treatment of Paper for Special Purposes” by Louis Edgar, 1907.

and tagged

6 Comments

  1. Jacques Factotum
    Posted November 30, 2009 at 8:41 AM | Permalink

    I presume you mean that Gustave Le Gray invented waxed paper in 1851, not 1951.

    I'm still trying to figure out how a folded collar of waxed paper would stay on the bowl. Maybe the problem is the cheap stuff I've bought in the past.

  2. Posted December 1, 2009 at 2:58 AM | Permalink

    Jacques,

    Fixed the typo. Thanks for letting me know.

    I agree with you on the folding of wax paper. I found it odd when I read it in the article, which was in part why I added it here. It was something that I hadn't done before, and also didn't have great success with.

    Sebastian

  3. Sheila
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 6:01 PM | Permalink

    I was wondering if you have come across any current manufacturers of waxed bread bags. We own a small, organic bakery and are having a hard time finding packaging we like — brown, waxed paper pags would be our choice.
    Thanks for your help!

  4. Posted February 26, 2010 at 11:10 AM | Permalink

    Hi Sheila – I haven't come across any waxed paper bags that would help you, but I will let you know when I do. Good luck with your bakery. I grew up in Germany I appreciate a good bread very much – which is unfortunately near impossible to come by in the US. I hope you're helping to change this. Where are you located? Maybe I can come by to find out myself. SK

  5. Carol
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 7:16 PM | Permalink

    Every week I bake bread, a loaf of plain and a loaf of cinnamon swirl, but since I don't use preservatives it only stays fresh for a few days. I've found the best way to make it last a full week and still seem fresh is to freeze half a loaf of each and wrap the rest in wax paper. All the wrapping and un-wrapping of the un-frozen loaves causes the paper to tear easily, so wax paper bags would be a great help, but I just can't find them anywhere.

    BTW, in the '50s mom covered bowls with wax paper; she would slip a rubberband around the bowl to hold it in place. It worked! Today I use the rubberbands for securing just about everything I store in the kitchen. I throw away the twist-ties and hard plastic clips and use them instead. From potato chips (make neat, tight folds and slip it around the entire package) to frozen veg's. Same method. The flour and sugar with just a bit left, same. And, yes, to hold the wax paper tight around a bowl. :~)

  6. Aliya Chandler
    Posted March 13, 2013 at 9:00 AM | Permalink

    Hi Sebastian. I was wondering if you had anymore information on wax paper? like how Gustave used it in his photography? It would be really helpful! Thanks!

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