ESCANABA - "People say to me, 'do you carve ice? Do you carve butter? Do you carve chocolate?,'" Sarah "The Cheese Lady" Kaufmann said. "And I say, 'no, I don't have time.'"
Kaufmann's choice of carving material may be unconventional, but it's paid off. Since 1996, she's taken her "Cheese Lady" guise from a sideline to a full-fledged career. In the process, she's created hundreds of cheese sculptures in places like grocery stores, food and wine festivals, and even the atrium of Lambeau Field.
Kaufmann said that her sculptures range in size from "small, medium, large, gigantic, and ridiculous" - with the 925-pounder she designed in 2011 for the Wisconsin State Fair, still certified by Guinness World Records as the world's largest cheese sculpture, representing the latter category. And Kaufmann's latest creation, a piece she calls "Milk Means More" (named after the slogan of its sponsor, the United Dairy Industry of Michigan) was completed this Thursday in the U.P. State Fair's Miracle of Life Pavilion.
Jordan Beck | Daily Press
Sarah “The Cheese Lady” Kaufmann works on her latest cheese sculpture in the Miracle of Life Pavilion Tuesday.
While UDIM has been involved with the U.P. State Fair for years, they started working with Kaufmann for the event in 2013, said Industry Relations Specialist Kristy Smith.
"Traditionally, we've done a butter cow sculpture," Smith said. "We wanted to be able to feature another dairy product."
And it's a choice that has grabbed people's attention, Kaufmann said.
"Change makes people notice," she said. "It's like, 'what? Is that butter?' Nope, it's cheese."
"Milk Means More" was carved out of an industry-standard 640-pound block of mild cheddar cheese, which was sourced from Williams Cheese Company in Linwood, Mich. Kaufmann said that cheddar, more than any other cheese, is an ideal choice for sculpting.
"Cheddar is dense and consistent, like clay. It holds up well, and comes in big slices like 40 and 640-pound blocks," Kaufmann said.
However, Kaufmann said her favorite cheeses to eat are Gorgonzola and three-year-aged Gouda.
Kaufmann carved "Milk Means More" in a refrigerated room with windows on three sides, giving fairgoers the opportunity to see her creative process at work, Smith said.
"People absolutely love to watch, and it doesn't hurt that we were giving out free samples," Smith said.
Many of those samples were handed out by Smith's son, Connor. Her daughter, Kate Banks, assisted Kaufmann with the carving of "Milk Means More."
"My kids get into the dairy act a lot," Smith said. "They like to help."
Smith said the U.P. State Fair has been a perfect venue for the creation and display of "Milk Means More."
"The U.P. State Fair has such a wonderful emphasis on agriculture," She said. "It's an ideal place to have this."
Kaufmann said that she was quite satisfied with how the sculpture was turning out.
"You never know what you're going to find in a block of cheese," she said.