The Giant of Illinois. Thumbelina, the miniature horse. The Cheese Lady.
All are immortalized as Guinness World Record holders, but only one has carved a wedding sculpture featuring a water-skiing bride and groom from a giant block of cheese.
And only The Cheese Lady, Sarah Kaufmann, was invited to the grand opening of the newest Hy-Vee supermarket in Madison, Wisconsin. (In her defense, Thumbelina would probably have been violating health codes.)
The Madison branch of the beloved employee-owned Midwestern supermarket chain is the perfect place to find Kaufmann in her natural habitat. As she sat in front of a 523-pound hunk of Henning’s 10 month-aged Wisconsin cheddar, shoppers gathered to see a true thing of beauty —a Pietà for the Cheese Head state: Bucky Badger, holding a wheel of cheese.
But Kaufmann’s true claim to fame is her 2011 Guinness world record. For the career milestone, she transformed 925 pounds of cheese into a roller coaster over three days at the Wisconsin State Fair — a place renowned for serving 13,000 cream puffs each year, and popularizing deep fried butter. In fact, the visiting Guinness judges killed two birds with one stone that year, overseeing the completion of the world’s largest cream puff as well.
Holding world records happens to run in the family. Sarah’s father Joe, a Duesenberg restorer, held the record for “most money offered for an antique car and turned down.” But it’s clear when watching Sarah interact with the Saturday shoppers — who stop by to admire her work (and grab samples of the deliciously complex Henning’s scraps) — that she does this for the love of the craft, not the records. Like a modern day Michelangelo, she says she never knows exactly what will emerge from the block of cheese until the final sculpture appears. Much like carving from a single slab of marble, cheese carving is a reductive process, where she uses wire loops to add even the most minute details in the last hours of the process.
As I grabbed a slice of cheddar fresh from the Bucky block, I had to ask whether she sneaks samples throughout the day, too. “It’s my duty to quality control,’ she answered, as I silently wondered how she stays so trim in the face of the constant temptation. And while her favorite cheeses to carve are the ubiquitous cheddar as well as Gruyère — which she likens to alabaster — Kauffman’s current preferred cheese for eating purposes is the “awesome” Wisconsin-produced Sartori Merlot BellaVitano. If it’s good enough for the Cheese Lady. the only full-time cheese carver in the country, it’s certainly good enough for me.
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