Interviews With People Who Have Interesting or Unusual Jobs
We’re always looking for people with interesting or unusual jobs. If you fall into one of these categories, or know someone who does, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: You’ve done some huge cheese sculptures. Which one is your favorite?
A: My current favorite is from the Indiana State Fair this past August. It was SO cute. It was 2,200 pounds of cheese.
It’s a dairy cow sitting on her throne. I used one white 640-pound block and two yellow 640-pound blocks and had to cut and fashion them to make the 7-foot by 6-foot sculpture.
It was very complicated, very beautiful, and very fun to do. It stretched me to the ‘nth degree of ability and stamina.
Q: How long have you been doing this?
A: I’ve been carving cheese for 17 years, full-time for eight years.
Q: I didn’t realize there was such a demand for people to carve cheese.
A: It is still unique. In retail and food service we are always looking for ways to make cheese more visible. It’s a “hook” to attract the consumer. I carve and sample (hook) and talk (educate) to get them more excited about cheese.
About 85% of my time is spent in supermarkets carving and promoting cheese for the Wisconsin dairy industry. “We” call it “theatre at retail” or “shoppertainment.” I‘m hired as entertainment!
I also carve at trade shows, food and wine events, and at a couple of state fairs.
Q: Do you do cheese sculptures for weddings?
A: All the time! That’s fun. Bride and groom on a tractor, bride and groom on a motorcycle, in their corvette, with their dog, as leprechauns, as college mascots, waterskiing, on a cake… the church…!
Q: Did you have one for your wedding?
A: We did! I ca-r-r-r-r-ved a skull and crossbones—the Jolly Roger, because we had a pirate wedding.
Q: Can I ask why you had a pirate wedding?
A: My husband is a retired Navy commander. We wanted to be married on an old frigate and sail ‘round San Diego Bay; shoot off the cannons, serve grog, the works! Instead we said, “I do” in Wisconsin. My bro and sis built a gigantic three-masted ship using her hay wagon—“The MV Cheese Lady” and served brats, cheese ‘n grog in gran-n-n-n-n-d style.
Q: Did you set out to be a cheese sculptor?
A: Cheese really found me. I drew a lot as a kid. My whole family is very artsy, talented and clever. We were always encouraged to try, our art was never criticized so we never failed. You should have seen our cookie decorating-–true works of art! I knew in high school that I had to do something with art, and I ended up going to technical school for commercial art.
Later, I became the art director for the American Dairy Association of Wisconsin. We had “foodies” I would hire to carve cheese for big events. Of course I had to dig in and help, but I never thought about carving cheese myself.
When I left that job in 1996, one of my cohorts called and asked me to carve for them. They sent me a 40 pound block, the tools, and the rest is history.
Q: In order to do this, you must have to travel a lot.
A: Last year, when I added up all the days, I was “home” for four months. But I’m in a condo, and my husband, Bill, is retired, so he travels with me. And he works for me. His nametag actually reads “Cheese Boy!”
Q: How long does it take you to make a cheese sculpture?
A: It can take two hours or ten days. My longest project took ten days (150 hours) at the Indiana State Fair; the New York State Fair was also ten days.
Q: How long will a sculpture last?
A: Small, medium, or large—wrap it with paper towel, cover loosely with plastic, and get it into refrigeration. The cheese rejuvenates itself. Great big carvings can last seven to eight weeks.
I carved a 300-pound gorilla before Halloween and it lasted through the New Year! In October we put a witch hat on it. In November, a pilgrim hat, then a Santa hat, then a New Year’s hat. We pitched it after that because we were sick of feeding it all those bananas!
In about a month I’ll be carving at Ripley’s Believe it Or Not! Times Square. I’ll be carving Mount Rushmore, Ripley’s-style! There will be five heads—Washington, a lizard man, Sword swallower, Ripley himself, Lincoln and perhaps a couple of shrunken heads for good juju!
Q: So you’ll be sculpting in front of people, right? Does that make you nervous?
A: Yes, I’ll be on display—one of the featured oddities! I don’t get nervous. I got over that, years ago, real fast.
Q: Have you ever sculpted the wrong thing?
A: It’s funny. I do the word “Wisconsin” all the time. Wisconsin. Wisconsin. Wisconsin. And it’s not beyond me to misspell Wisconsin.
A: Where do you get cheese that’s big enough for these projects?
A: I like to use the sizes commonly made today—a forty-pound block, 22-pound wheels, or larger. I often carve 500 and 1000-pound “mammoth” cheddar cylinders. That’s how it’s been made for centuries.
Cheese makers commonly make 640-pound blocks that are 28 by 28 by 24. That’s the industrial size for manufacturing cheddar, Havarti, Monterey jack… made in the large cheese plants twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
You know, it takes ten pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese. The average dairy cow produces about seventy pounds a day. Demand for milk for cheese is robust.
Q: Do you draw your designs or do you just sculpt?
A: As a rule, sketch and plan ahead… Cheese sculpting is subtractive; you can NOT put it back! It’s also polite for your audience to see what you’re carving. They will still ask, “What are you making??”
Sometimes I spend hours or days sketching. The large sculptures can be very elaborate. You are working in 3D! I’ll draw on a quarter-inch grid and then blow it up into two actual-sized patterns one to cut, one to post near the cheese.
Q: Are there other cheese sculptors out there?
A: I can count them on one hand: a couple ladies and a man; a few butter sculptors that occasionally carve cheese, and a few chefs but no one else has a full-time crazy career like me!
Q: How long will you be doing this?
A: Till I die in the harness.
It’s not work to me. It’s an art project. I don’t think, “Ugh, another one.” Instead, it’s, “How can I fit this one in? Where can I get the cheese? How can I make it great?!”
Q: You’re amazing.
A: I guess I am famous in the cheese world. The sky is my limit.
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