Michelangelo of cheddar to create next masterpiece in New Jersey supermarket

Photo: courtesy Stew Leonard’s

This week Paramus, New Jersey, will become to cheese what Florence was to marble during the Renaissance. Sarah Kaufmann, the Michelangelo of cheese sculpture, will be carving two 500-pound cheese wheels into an autumn harvest scene to celebrate the opening of the first Stew Leonard’s supermarket in the great state of New Jersey. (This is also an occasion worth celebrating, since, according to Allison Robicelli, The Takeout’s East Coast bureau chief, Stew Leonard’s is the Palazzo Pitti of grocery stores.)

Kaufmann, known as “The Cheese Lady,” is a native Wisconsinite who has been carving cheese professionally since 1981. She fell into this line of work accidentally while she was working as an artist for the American Dairy Association of Wisconsin. She is the current Guinness Book of World Records record-holder for the world’s largest cheese sculpture for a 5-foot tall, 3,462-pound bas relief of joyriding farm animals that she carved last year, also at the opening of a Stew Leonard’s, this one in East Meadow, Long Island. (It was engraved with the Stew Leonard’s store motto.) Her works include landscapes of farms and the Chicago skyline; portraits of Martha Stewart, Snoop Dogg, and Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy; a replica of Mt. Rushmore; a 1,900-pound astronaut; and, of course, a cow. She usually works wearing a Holstein-spotted apron and a cheesehead hat. She has a wide selection of such hats, including the classic wedge, but her favorite is her top hat.

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Kaufmann will begin her carving tomorrow morning and will continue through Monday. She will be working in cheddar, her favorite medium, produced by Henning’s Cheese, a family-owned business in Kiel, Wisconsin, that happens to be the only cheese manufacturer in the country that makes wheels of cheese that are big enough. Unlike butter sculpture, which involves piling butter onto a wire frame, cheese sculpture is more like traditional sculpting, involving carving and scraping away at a large block to create a design. Last year, Stew Leonard’s used the scraps as fillings for grilled cheese sandwiches, which the store gave away to shoppers who came to watch Kauffman at work.

The finished sculpture will include a turkey, in honor of Paramus, which according to a press release from Stew Leonard’s, comes from the Lenni Lenape phrase meaning “land of the wild turkey.” After Kauffman has revealed the turkey within, Patch reports, the sculpture will be dismantled and either given away or sold. Sic transit gloria.

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Aimee Levitt

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.