Tools of the trade vary. Sculpting expert Sarah Kaufmann uses wire loop tools to create her cheese sculptures. Most of her work is done with triangle, square or round wire loop tools that come in small, medium and large sizes. Other cheese sculpting experts use the same tools that an artist would use when working with clay. Common kitchen tools are used to supplement basic clay carving tools when appropriate. Common kitchen items such as cheese graters, knives and melon ballers can be helpful. Woodshop tools such as a planer, perforated rasp and band saw are also helpful. Expert sculptor Troy Landwehr finds piano wire efficient for cutting his shapes.
Food carving has been popular since the 13th Century, although carving cheese is a newer pastime that is becoming more common. Almost any type of cheese is suitable for carving and you do not need temperature-controlled conditions in which to work, as with butter or ice sculptures.The plasticity of cheese makes this medium more forgiving than ice. Cheese sculptures are more long-lasting than butter or ice sculptures and, like butter, cheese sculptures can be eaten after you are done displaying them.
Tools of the Trade
Types of Cheese
Cheddar is a commonly used cheese both because it comes in large sizes and is made with a combination of oil and whey that make it soft and pliable. Although any cheese can be used, the ideal consistency for carving is a cheese that is firm like clay. A cheese that is too soft will lose its shape. A cheese that is too hard will flake and crack. Kaufmann likes to carve provolone that comes in long cylinders. She also works with asiago, white cheddar and gruyere. She contrasts colors by using different kinds of cheeses together. Combinations such as cheddar for the main work are contrasted with Colby with its light color or pepper jack, with its red, green and yellow flakes. Cheese sculpting expert Jim Victor likes to work with Parmesan cheese because this type of cheese resists molding. He advocates cutting off soft cheeses including Brie or blue and inserting these into a main sculpture made of harder cheese.
Techniques also vary. Kaufmann describes starting with a large block of cheese and chipping away to uncover the figure beneath, much like traditional wood carving. She buys cheddar in 40-pound blocks measuring about 11-by-14 inches. She scrapes and digs at the cheese to form a design or figure. Some artists are able to create intricate designs with little or no formal training while some have been to art school. Some people improvise designs working as they go, while other people draw out a plan beforehand and follow it precisely. Landwehr sketches a design and places or traces it on the cheese, marking which areas need to be cut away.
Patience is important. Plan to devote a lot of time to carving and perfecting your technique. Kaufmann indicates an average 20-pound, two dimensional sculpture takes her about six to 12 hours to finish. Sculptures she has made for competitions, however, take much longer. She has completed an alligator sculpture, for example, that took her 67 hours and a 2,400-pound Indiana State Fair sculpture taking her 121 hours to complete.
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