Sculptor creates cheese art at fair

ESCANABA – Visitors to this year’s U.P. State Fair may be surprised that the butter sculpture has been replaced by one made of cheese.

For most of the week, Sarah “The Cheese Lady” Kaufmann, who lives in San Diego but was born and raised in Wisconsin, worked in her carving station inside the Miracle of Life Pavilion while fairgoers watched. She completed the sculpture Thursday afternoon.

“It’s soft. It’s better on the old muscles than wood or stone or some of those other tougher materials. And if you get hungry you have a snack,” said Kaufmann of working in cheese.

Kaufmann was always interested in art. That interest led her to study commercial art and eventually become the art director for the American Dairy Association of Wisconsin.

“That’s where I ran into cheese carving, because we had people that would carve for our events,” she said.

As an art director, Kaufmann worked alongside artists who carved for ADA events, but it wasn’t long before she was carving herself.

“I just loved seeing the cheese carving, and I would do some at trade shows with them after my job was done,” she said.

Armed with much of the same equipment used by artists who work in clay, Kaufmann has been taking blocks of cheese and forming them into works of art for the past 17 years.

Her name is in the Guinness Book of World Records for carving the world’s largest cheese sculpture weighing in at 925 pounds – though she notes she’s made larger sculptures that weren’t witnessed by representatives from Guinness Book of World Records. However, it was her work at the Indiana State Fair that led her to be selected as the carver for this year’s U.P. State Fair dairy sculpture.

“We had sponsored the butter sculpture in the past and thought it’d be nice to try something unique and different,” said Terry Philibeck, director of industry relations for United Dairy Industry of Michigan, who had taken notice of Kaufmann’s carvings when he worked in Indiana.

The U.P. State Fair sculpture features a farm family and two calfs. The husband, wearing a sweatshirt that reads “U.P. Michigan,” and his wife stand at the back of the sculpture while their daughter bottle feeds one of the calfs. A second child, a boy, sits near the base of the sculpture with another calf.

“We’re trying to get the message out on local farms, dairy farms, in the Upper Peninsula, how their milk is utilized,” said Philibeck. “We’re looking at the sustainability of the dairy farms in the Upper Peninsula and Michigan and promoting farm families in Michigan.”

The sculpture is carved from a single block of yellow cheddar. White cheddar inlays were added to the piece, and some portions feature bits of cheese wax.

“I use a lot of cheddar because it’s dense, and it’s consistent, and it comes in lots of sizes, and it tastes great. People love to snack on the trim,” said Kaufmann.

Kaufmann also noted that, while a single cow produces roughly 70 pounds of milk a day, 10 pounds of milk are needed to produce one pound of cheese. The block of cheddar that formed the base of the carving weighed 680 pounds.

“A gallon of milk weighs about 10 pounds. So this is 680 pounds. So line up 680 gallon jugs, and that’s the milk it represents,” she said.

The finished sculpture and cheese trimmed during the carving process will be donated to the Escanaba Salvation Army Food Bank following the fair.