In her studios, Sarah Kaufmann sculpts CEOs and skylines, giant alligators and dragons—all from cheese.
Sarah Kaufmann once chiseled a sculpture of Mount Rushmore out of 2,000 pounds of cheese and hauled it to the street outside The Today Show to promote her business. Of course, the sculpture made it on air as the camera panned the crowd. Who, after all, can resist Teddy Roosevelt in Cheddar?
That’s the kind of assignment you get when you’re a professional cheese carver. Kaufmann’s clients include everyone from groups that promote cheese to couples who want a version of themselves in Provolone and Gruyère at their wedding receptions. In her Cincinnati and San Diego studios, Kaufmann sculpts CEOs and skylines, giant alligators and dragons. The famous aren’t safe. She carved Jay Leno and shipped his head to him (he talked about it on the air, too). Other celebrities in cheese have included Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mickey Mouse and SpongeBob CheesePants.
Kaufmann produced her first carving in 1981 as art director for a dairy association. She spends up to 12 hours on the average sculpture, though some require more time. Kaufmann once carved for 121 hours—taking breaks for sleep—to create a 2,400-pound, 3-foot tall, 6-foot long cow sculpture at the Indiana State Fair.
Her creations usually get eaten or donated to food pantries, but not always. For one tailgate party, she fabricated the helmeted heads of two football players. Hungry fans devoured one head, but a rabid cheese thief jumped on the table and escaped with second. Then there was the 300-pound gorilla she carved for a cheese shop. He lasted from Halloween to New Year’s, Kaufmann says. “They just put different hats on him for the season.”
—By Andrea Cooper