Unleash Your Cheese Dreams with This Master Sculptor!

It’s hard to imagine anyone more qualified to be called “The Cheese Lady,” than cheese-sculpting virtuoso Sarah Kaufmann. Hailing from Wisconsin, the heartland of cheese, Kaufmann first worked in the advertising industry until a fortuitous pivot led her to the whimsical culinary world she now dominates. With two Guinness World Records (World’s Largest Cheese Carving) to her name, Kaufmann has carved more than 4,000 edible sculptures that have appeared in supermarkets and state fairs, weddings, and sporting events.  

Allrecipes recently sat down with Kaufmann to talk about the artistry behind her awe-inspiring, edible masterpieces.

 How did your journey into cheese sculpting begin? 

I was born an artist. I came out of the womb drawing, I’m sure! I pursued a degree in commercial art and worked for the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin for many years as an artist, starting out as a layout person, doing illustrations, and graphic arts for advertising. Eventually, I became the director and creative director, but then it was all about meetings, budgets, and mission statements. That’s not my thing. I love getting my hands dirty, figuring things out, doing the actual work. 

As part of my job, I hired people to carve intricate designs out of cheese for our events instead of traditional signage. I didn’t realize this could become a full-fledged career. After leaving the organization, the Dairy Farmers asked me to freelance as a cheese carver. What started as occasional gigs grew into steady work through word-of-mouth referrals. This led me to travel across the country for events ranging from trade shows and grocery store openings to PGA events and the Super Bowl. Eventually, my unreal job of cheese carving became my real job, and I had to quit my advertising job. Around 2002 or 2003, when I finally quit my full-time job and did cheese carving full time, business exploded.

Are there specific types of cheese that lend themselves better to sculpting or that you prefer to work with?

I do work with a variety of cheeses. I love working with Gruyère. Aged Gouda has worked very well. Cheddar is firm and easily accessible, especially for carving and shipping. I will get 40-pound blocks of mild cheddar and carve them—that’s 14 x 11 x 7 inches, a 40-pound block. That’s the industry standard for cheddar. Also, I use 640-pound blocks of cheddar, which is the industry standard in the bar cheddar manufacturing world. But I’ve also used pepper jack, Havarti, and Colby-Jack—those commodity-type cheeses made in 640 pound blocks.

Sarah Kaufmann

You’ve carved everything from cheese pets to a 12,500-pound mammoth Texas dragon. Can you share one of the most challenging, unique, or ridiculous cheese sculptures you’ve created and the story behind it?

I have a bad habit of getting too caught up in the detail and making the sculptures harder than they should be because I want them to be awesome. When I carved for the Indiana State Fair, it became one of the most challenging experiences. I’ll stack sculptures to be five feet high, combining massive blocks. The challenge lies in dealing with the weight and gravity; you can’t just stack a 640-pound block on top of another without support. So, I had to create an inner structure, like a table, using vertical steel legs drilled into the cheese. The tabletop inside each block provided the necessary support for stacking additional blocks. Another time, when I was carving an astronaut, it involved meticulous planning to ensure I didn’t run into the wooden support while sculpting the shape of the shoulders on top of the multi-layered structure, making it one of the toughest aspects of my cheese-sculpting journey.

Having set two Guinness World Records for the World’s Largest Cheese Carving, can you provide an overview of the process of creating such monumental sculptures?

Creating massive cheese sculptures, like the 925-pound Guinness World Record and a mammoth-sized 1,000-pound piece, involves extensive planning. I don’t have a CAD system—I draw everything by hand on a grid. I meticulously plan the shapes, considering the limited time available, often working around the clock for three consecutive days. The challenge lies in cheese’s lack of internal structure compared to butter sculptures, requiring strategic planning to prevent collapse. Unlike butter, cheese can’t support protruding elements without a solid base. For example, creating an arm pointing with a finger demands a pyramid-like structure to avoid potential collapse. Gravity is not cheese’s friend!

Have you ever experienced a “cheese disaster” at an event?

When the sculptures are bigger than the 40 pound blocks, I do everything on site. Once, I worked with the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Ohio in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the moonwalk. I created a 1,200-pound astronaut made from three 640-pound blocks stacked, to be displayed in the air-conditioned museum. I worked on my drawings for one month, then did my three days of carving on site. However, during that planning time, funding was dropped, so they turned off the air conditioning at night. Guess what? The astronaut warmed up, causing the cheese blocks to soften. On the crucial display day, the second and third layers slipped off! A 5 a.m. call informed me of the meltdown, but thankfully, with the help of a forklift and improvised supports, we managed to restack the blocks. The astronaut endured through the celebration of the moonwalk, showcasing the challenges and triumphs of creating such monumental cheese sculptures.

 Do you have a favorite subject or theme you like to sculpt?

I love doing animals! I’ve carved lots of college team mascots and Alaskan wildlife, like bears, moose, and eagles. And I love doing animals that I base on reality—but then I twist it and animate it, maybe making the animals smile. 

What was your favorite cheese accomplishment—and what’s on your cheese dream list? 

The latest, greatest feather in my Hat was carving for the Kentucky Derby—that was a wow! I carved Secretariat for the 50th anniversary of his running. And I’ve always wanted to do a large Statue of Liberty using blue cheese, because, you know, the copper patina.