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.
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”.
In its hey-day, waxed paper was also used for packaging candy, chocolate and bread. In this picture by Russell Lee I found on Shorpy, 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.
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.
The individual cheeses pictured in this article are, in order top to bottom, a Morbier (French), a Pt. Reyes Blue (USA), 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.